Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Steadily Improving Defense

Last night's game was fun to watch.  Anytime the Cats go on the road and win by almost 30 is a good time, especially against a Big 12 opponent.  There is no doubt that this offense is lethal, but as I wrote last week, there are some questions on defense.  That's why, despite an 85 point offensive output, what was more impressive was the way Arizona played defense, holding the highest scoring team in the land to a paltry 57.

Today, I want to look at a couple of defensive stats to show that the defensive woes of the early season may be melting away.  In fact, our defense is showing steady, incremental improvement.  Let's start with an old workhorse stat- defensive field goal percentage.

The Wildcats began the season with a less than impressive defensive outing against the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern, who shot 44% at McKale.  To put that number into context, that kind of defense today would give you a national rank of 217, not exactly impressive.  The national average for opponent FG% is just under 43%.  Texas leads all teams thus far holding opponents to 29.7%.  A good team should be under 40%, and after last night's game, we finally are.  Despite a minor hiccup against Long Beach State, the Cats have held three of their last four opponents to under 37% shooting, and this statistic is showing a fairly steady decline.  Hopefully, it keeps moving in that direction.  For defensive field goal percentage, Arizona currently ranks 57th in the nation at 38.9%.

Next, I want to introduce a new stat to the zero to two people who read this, what I call "Defensive Stop Percentage" .  A possession can end in one of a few ways, a made shot, a made free throw, a defensive rebound, or a turnover (offensive foul, steal, bouncing the ball out of bounds on your foot, etc.).  A defensive stop is a possession that does not end in your opponent putting points on the board.  So the defensive stop percentage (DS%) is the percent of possessions in which the opponent does not score.

Bear in mind that FG% and DS% are hardly independent, so it should be no surprise that similar trends are present.  After only stopping Charleston Southern on 54% of possessions, things have looked much brighter since.  The Cats' best showing was against NAU, who only managed to score in 30% of their possessions.  Last night, the Raiders were held scoreless 64% of the times they controlled the ball.  The team average DS% now sits at 63.1%.

This steady improvement cannot go on for ever.  Eventually, it has to level out, but the good news is that it is going in the right direction.  To be a legitimate contender, Arizona needs to couple its strong offense with an equally potent defense.   KenPom currently ranks us as the 8th best offense in the nation but only the 37th best defense.  That low number can be attributed to our slow start, but things are clearly coming around.

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