Category Archives: counting things

Your bracket requires knowledge of shot volume


Generating a very high number of shot attempts is fun! (Photo: J.D. Lyon Jr.)

The story so far. Last year I cooked up a way of measuring how well teams combine taking care of the ball and getting second chances. I called it a shot volume index, North Carolina led the (major-conference) nation in said measure, and the Tar Heels won a national title. Boom! Analytic perfection!

Well, not really. UNC looked really good retroactively on the same measure in 2016, after all, and a fat lot of good that did them in the 40th minute of that year’s national championship game.

Speaking of the Heels, they are No. 1 again in the 2018 rankings, and this time they won going away.

Shot volume index (SVI)
Turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and shot volume
Major-conference games only

                         TO%     OR%     SVI
1.  North Carolina      16.2    40.5    102.4
2.  West Virginia       16.9    36.4     99.7
3.  Florida             13.8    27.8     99.4

Year after year, the men in Chapel Hill put a nice floor under their offense, one that can come in very handy on bad shooting nights. Then again, you don’t have to be an insanely great offensive rebounding team to do so. Look at Mike White’s Florida Gators, slightly below-average on the offensive glass and generating a very high number of shots anyway. Continue reading

Tuesday Truths: “The streak continues” edition

Welcome to this season’s first, last, and only installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 97 teams in eight conferences did against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

Editor’s note: I took on some new commitments this season in the areas of teaching on Monday nights and writing a multi-thousand-word Tuesday feature on bubble watching. As a result, there was a measurable decline (to zero, if you must be so precise) in how often my traditional multi-thousand-word Tuesday feature on per-possession performance appeared. But, with today’s post, Tuesday Truths has now made an appearance for 10 consecutive seasons under two different names and across three different sites. Huzzah, The Streak!

Virginia and the incorrigible myth of in-game “separation”


Great finish, but shouldn’t you have won by more? (

Final results, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession   Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

ACC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Virginia             17-1   59.2    1.08    0.89    +0.19
2.  Duke                 13-5   69.6    1.14    0.97    +0.17
3.  North Carolina       11-7   69.2    1.16    1.08    +0.08
4.  Louisville            9-9   69.6    1.06    1.02    +0.04
5.  Clemson              11-7   66.0    1.04    1.00    +0.04
6.  Notre Dame           8-10   64.8    1.08    1.06    +0.02
7.  NC State             11-7   71.1    1.08    1.07    +0.01
8.  Miami                11-7   67.3    1.08    1.07    +0.01
9.  Florida State         9-9   71.4    1.09    1.10    -0.01
10. Virginia Tech        10-8   67.0    1.06    1.07    -0.01
11. Syracuse             8-10   62.9    1.01    1.02    -0.01
12. Boston College       7-11   69.7    1.06    1.10    -0.04
13. Wake Forest          4-14   70.3    1.00    1.08    -0.08
14. Georgia Tech         6-12   65.7    0.96    1.05    -0.09
15. Pitt                 0-18   64.8    0.87    1.16    -0.29

AVG.                            67.2    1.05

For a fifth consecutive season, Virginia is doing strange things to the basketball frontal lobes of otherwise sensible observers. It is again being said that the Cavaliers will surely have trouble achieving “separation” from quality opponents in the NCAA tournament, a nice way of saying their offense isn’t actually good enough to go far into the bracket. Continue reading

Bid thieves are more rare than we think


Georgia in 2008 was an honest to goodness bid thief. Then again, that was 10 years ago.

If you want to start an argument, put “The myth of X” across the top of your treatise, where “X” is something that actually does occur from time to time. I was tempted to title this post “The myth of bid thieves,” but why be pointedly belligerent when such teams really do exist?

That being said….

Quick, what’s the most recent bid thief that comes to mind? I suppose Rhode Island last year might fit that description, but with the case of the 2017 Rams we’re already knee-deep in the unavoidable conceptual challenges posed by the very idea of a bid thief.

With a significant minority of bid thief cases — I peg it at about one-third of such instances — we actually don’t, and cannot, know whether they were really bid thieves. Put simply, Dan Hurley’s team may have earned an at-large last year if they had lost the Atlantic 10 tournament title game. Continue reading

Is UK’s perimeter D good or lucky?


(Photo: Elliott Hess)

John Calipari’s even-younger-than-usual team has a chance to make some history in 2018. This could turn out to be the most effective perimeter defense we’ve seen in the last five years in major-conference play, eclipsing the mark set by the storied UK team of 2015:

Lowest opponent 3FG%s
Major-conference games only, 2014-18

Kentucky     2018    27.3
Kentucky     2015    28.0
Texas A&M    2014    28.0
Providence   2016    28.5
Syracuse     2016    28.9

The Wildcats’ prowess at or good fortune in forcing misses from beyond the arc is important for understanding this team in performance terms. Actually, said ability-slash-happening is, by far, the outstanding characteristic of an otherwise so-so defense. Can it continue? Continue reading

The visual and performance implications of Michigan State never forcing turnovers



Michigan State is having one of its best seasons of the last decade, and that’s saying something. The Spartans are 26-3 and on-track for a No. 2 or possibly even a No. 1 seed. MSU also has a shot at winning its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 2009.

Those are all the hallmarks of a team performing at the highest level, and, more to the point, the Spartans could win a national championship. You likely knew all of the above already, so consider what follows as an explanatory addendum for you, the viewer.

Michigan State is highly strange visually in 2018. This is clearly one of the best interior defenses we’ve seen in recent years. Our eyes know it, and they report that narrative back to us in breathless terms. Just look at Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward altering and swatting away shots. Besides, the numbers back up the eye test. Conference opponents are converting just 40.3 percent of their two-point tries. Continue reading

These are the teams generating shots in 2018


Welcome to the shot-volume party, Wildcats. (NBC Sports)

Last year I cooked up a way of measuring how well teams combine taking care of the ball and getting second chances. I called it a shot volume index, North Carolina led the (major-conference) nation in said measure, and the Tar Heels won a national title. Woo-hoo! Analytic perfection!

Well, not really. UNC is again leading 74 other major-conference teams in terms of shot volume, but, unless the Heels start more closely resembling last year’s team on defense, a repeat is unlikely (though not impossible). No, what I like about measures like this one (there were other trusty metrics for this kind of thing already in place before I came along with mine) is how they show there’s more than one way to generate shots.

More specifically, there are two ways, as seen at the top of this season’s leaderboard.

Shot volume index (SVI)
Through games of February 12
Major-conference games only

    	                 TO%     OR%     SVI
1.  North Carolina      16.1    41.0    102.8
2.  Villanova           12.9    28.4    100.7
3.  Duke                17.2    37.4     99.8
4.  Ole Miss            15.9    32.9     99.8

Continue reading

Why do we worry about college players’ minutes?


Will he collapse in a heap?

This is the year of fatigue in the Big 12. When an elite team like Kansas or West Virginia drops a game or two, it is said to be because key players aren’t getting enough rest.

The explanation rises like a perennial in the spring every time the Jayhawks lose a game, and we all form a worry-circle around Devonte’ Graham’s current streak of six consecutive 40-minute games. Conversely, when the Mountaineers suffered a three-game losing streak, it was said that Jevon Carter was exhausted, and that the system itself wears out its players long before March. (Such talk has subsided now that WVU has won two straight.) Continue reading