Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thirty Somethings

The adjectives "pretty" and "efficient" probably aren't the best choices to describe our win over the Huskies.  The two teams combined for 34 turnovers and and went 4 for 30 from behind the arc.  But I'm not complaining.  The Cats have won 90% of their games and had their first victory in Seattle in something like six years.  Hopefully, they will get their first road sweep of the season on Saturday.

What was unusual about the game was that Arizona's offense, no matter how you measure it, was not good, but they got the win anyway.  That's in part because they played great defense, but also because Washington, like us, had a rough night shooting.  The Cats took 57 shots, and of those, only 20 fell, for a miserable 35.1%.  It's tough to win a game when you shoot so poorly.  The graph below shows Arizona's field goal percentage vs. point margin for their previous 134 games, dating back to Feb 2, 2009.

The relationship between these variables is not strong, but it patterns the way you would expect.  When, the Cats shoot the ball well, they tend to win.  Bad shooting usually means a loss.  Based on past history, a 35.1% shooting percentage typically equates to a six to seven point loss.  The break even point is around 40%.  The exact value for a zero point margin is 40.6%.  So, as a rule of thumb, if Arizona shoots better than 40%, they are likely to win.

The above graph shows the percentage of games won versus field goal percentage.  Over this time frame, we have lost nearly 2/3 of our games like the Washington contest, in which we have shot between 35 and 40%.  Notice that when the Cats shoot above 50%, they are almost unbeatable.  On January 26, 2011, the Cats shot 56% against the Beavers in Corvallis and lost by one, the only loss we have had when making more shots than not.  Last night's win was not pretty or likely, but it was helped tremendously by defense.

Not surprisingly, point margin and opponent's field goal percentage show the reverse relationship.  Interestingly, the break even point on defense is higher.  We are more likely to win than lose when our opponent's shoot less than 47.6%,  at least over this time frame.  I suspect this difference is due to the Cats' propensity to get to the free throw line.

The Huskies, like us, also shot the ball very poorly, sinking 21 of 57 shots for 36.8%.  For a typical Arizona game, this would equate to a 13 or 14 point victory.  Combining the results of both analyses, based on our past history, we would expect the Cats to have won this game by seven or eight points, not too different from the actual outcome.  A win is a win, even when the paint starts wearing off the rim.  I guarantee our shooting will improve on Saturday.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


For seemingly the first time in five years, the Cats will go into Seattle the favorites, but that doesn't change the fact that I have been conditioned to approach this game with trepidation.  While we are favorites, we are not strong favorites.  There are few road games in the Pac that are a cake walk, and this not one of them.  I am sure the rowdy UW crowd is going to be amped, and Lorenzo Romar will have his team prepped.  I've seen enough of C. J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs, Aziz N'Diaye, and Desmond Simmons to know that this one is going to be a battle.  For a moment, let's forget past experience, though, and focus on the numbers.

Arizona has been been the better offensive team, in virtually all facets of the game.  The only factor in which the Huskies have been better is on the offensive glass.  I'm not sure how Romar gets his guys to crash the offensive boards the way they do, but this is a staple of the Washington offense.  Despite a slow start on the defensive end, Washington has turned things around, and the two teams are pretty much equivalent, except that we have played a much tougher schedule.  The Huskies have a slight advantage in height, but we are the deeper team.

The simulation says the Huskies are five point underdogs and gives us a 64.3% chance of winning.   Expect about 66 possessions and a final score of 71-66.  If things turn out that way, Sean Miller would pick up his first win at Alaska Airlines Arena, Hec Edmunson Pavilion, or whatever it's called.  As UCLA fell tonight, and at the time of writing, Oregon is well on their way to a loss, a win tomorrow night would be golden.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Return of the Team

It's pretty clear that everyone needed that.  Without a doubt, Sean Miller needed an easy win, and so did the fans.  Most of all, the players needed that game.  They played well, and importantly they played as a team.  

A couple of days ago, I noted some trends for this team that have been moving uncomfortably in the wrong direction.  I  pointed out that for eight consecutive games, more shots had been created than assisted.  Also, defense has been slipping.  Finally, I surmised that scoring was becoming more and more concentrated among a few players.

I am happy to report that in our defeat of the USC Trojans, we reversed all of these trends, at least for a night.  As for assists, of the 25 shots that were made, only nine or 36% were unassisted.  When was the last time that the Cats had 36% or fewer of their shots unassisted?  It was way back on December 4th against Southern Miss. 

While the offense was decent, our defense was truly exceptional.   Holding the Trojans to only 28.1% shooting was a stark contrast to the UCLA game when the Bruins shot nearly 48%.  This was our best shooting defense of the season.  The Cats held USC to a paltry 0.68 points per possession, which equaled our best defensive effort of the year against NAU. 

As for balance in scoring, it was my impression that this team, which is full of talent, was increasingly turning to a few players for points, moving away from the balance with which they started the season.  In fact, that was the case.  For each game, I calculated the percentage of points scored by the top three scorers and summed it for the season through the UCLA game. Here is what I found:

Notice that the team began the season with unbalanced scoring.  Against Charleston Southern, more than half of the points scored were put in by three guys (Hill, Lyons, and Johnson), even though ten players saw action in that game.   The scoring, however, quickly became much more even.   Our most balanced scoring effort was against East Tennessee State when the top three scored only 33% of the point total.  Since late November and especially in the conference season scoring has become increasingly dominated by a few players.

Against the Trojans, the top three scored only 36.5% of the team total, our second most balanced effort.  Notably, among the starting five, the leading scorer (Nick Johnson) had only five points more than the lowest scorer (Mark Lyons).  Also shot attempts were remarkably well distributed among the starters.  Brandon Ashley had the fewest attempts with six, and Solomon Hill had the most with nine.   These guys looked and played like a team.  They looked like that team that was blowing out opponents back in November.

Next up is a road trip to Washington.  I hope we see more of the same.

University of Southern California

After the UCLA game, I thought it might be time to retire the game simulations, but I told the one to three people who read this that there were good reasons to distrust the numbers in that one.   The good news about this game is that all signs point to a comfortable victory.  On the bad side, we have struggled a bit against teams with "Southern" in the their names.  Here's the skinny.

We are a much stronger offensive team, so much so that if we can match the Trojans on defense, we would be expected to run away with this one.  For the season as a whole, the two teams have been pretty much equivalent in terms of defensive efficiency, but for the conference season, we have actually been better, despite serious slip ups against Oregon and UCLA.

The simulation gives us a comfortable 88% chance of victory with an average margin of victory of 16.5 points.  The most likely final score is 75-58.  I feel pretty confident that the Cats are going to bounce back after Thursday's loss.  I hope I'm right.

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Need of Assistance

The good thing about being 16-2 is that we are only four games away from a twenty win season with plenty of basketball left to play.  The bad thing about winning game after game is that it can lead to complacency.  Teams continue to do what works, but what they might not notice is how tendencies are slowly shifting.  Today, I want to look at one of those aspects of my favorite team that is drifting in an uncomfortable direction.

I don't really feel like breaking down last night's game because plenty of others have done that, and most of all I like Sean Miller's take on it.   We could point to UCLA's great offense and great defense, or our bad offense and bad defense.  We could talk about seemingly a dozen missed layups, or three pointers that did not fall.  To be honest, I think it is a good thing that we lost by only 11 given the way each team played.  Instead I want to write about what blabber-mouth Bill Walton pointed out during the game, and what Sean Miller reiterated afterward assists.

I think that most people would agree that for the average shot taken, one that is assisted is a better shot than one that is not.  Sure, breakaway dunks are nice.  So are spectacular individual drives to the hoop, post up moves, and fadeaway jumpers.  But if a guy (or girl) is fed the ball in a position to take a good shot, that shot has a better chance of falling than when that guy is creating his shot against one or more defenders.

After the first game of the season, I wrote briefly about assists.  Against Charleston Southern, the Cats made 27 shots.  Of those, 25 were assisted.  That game was a superb example of sharing the ball, of unselfish play.  Last night, the Cats made 28 shots with 10 assists.  In Game 1, 7.4% of field goals were unassisted.  Last night, in Game 18,  64.2% of shots were created by the shooter.  This is the highest percentage of any game this season.  What has happened between these bookends?

The short story is that there has been a slow and steady shift toward less team-oriented play.  Here is the percentage of unassisted field goals made for every game this season:

 Notice that early in the season, things bounced around a bit, and the season opener was definitely an outlier.  Still, notice that of the first ten games of the season, there were only two in which more field goals were created than assisted.  Since the East Tennessee State game, however, we have become perpetually mired in a pattern of shot creation.  If we look at this in terms of the cumulative percentage of unassisted shots taken, the pattern is unambiguous:

Here's a simple explanation of the graph.  If you looked at every shot made at any given point the season and calculated the percentage of unassisted field goals, those are the numbers that are plotted on the y-axis. It just keeps creeping up.  Part of this is undoubtedly what's known as "regression to the mean".   In other words, Game 1 was so unusual that we knew that these numbers had to rise, but it's fairly clear that there is more to the pattern than that.  The Cats are becoming increasingly reliant on individual players making individual plays.  Have you seen Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons, or Nick Johnson spinning in the lane lately?

If you have been religiously following this team, which we should not forget has won 16 of 18 games, you have noticed other trends as well.  For example, the defense is slipping, bench minutes are contracting, and I think (but need to check) that scoring is increasingly becoming concentrated among a few players.  The good news is that these trends are reversible.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

University of California, Los Angeles

I am numbers guy, and I don't trust my intuition.  My intuition tells me that this is going to be a difficult game, but the numbers say otherwise.  In previewing this game, however, I can't help but question what the stats are telling me, and here is why.

UCLA is a good team.  Early in the season, they had some losses.  First, they were beaten by Georgetown, not a bad loss at all.  They fell to Cal Poly by two points at home.  That's embarrassing, but you know, any team is capable of a bad loss.  They lost to San Diego State in Anaheim, which again, is not a bad loss, and of course, they lost to Oregon at home in their last game.  Other than Cal Poly, there are no real blemishes there.

Plus, the UCLA lineup has been anything but constant.  Tyler Lamb  transferred after only playing one game this season.   Josh Smith also left the team in late November.  UCLA's star recruit, Shabazz Muhammad, missed the first four games of the season because of violations of NCAA rules.  Raw statistical treatments of the UCLA Bruins are blind to lineup flux, and for that reason, I think we need to view the comparisons below with a critical eye.

When I previewed the Pac offensively and defensively, the story on UCLA was that their offense was equal to ours in its efficiency.  Their defense, on the other other hand, was not good.  In fact, it was one of the worst in the league.  What's interesting is that since that time, the Cats' defense has suffered, while UCLA's has improved.  If we look at season totals, our defense appears to have been much more efficient if measured by points per possession.  If we just look at games in the Pac-12, UCLA has been better, holding opponents to 0.94 points per possession compared to our defense at 0.99. This is another reason why I think we need to be careful when playing the numbers game.

Shooting two pointers, the teams are equivalent, but we have been better from the three point line and the charity stripe.  In terms of raw offensive efficiency, we have a slight advantage.  We have been a much better rebounding team, but not surprisingly, they have fewer turnovers.  UCLA is the first team we have faced with greater effective size, measured by both height and weight.  We have more depth, but bench scoring is more or less equal.

What does the simulation have to say?  The computer gives us a 75.6% chance of victory and suggests that we are ten point favorites at 77-67.   If you believe the numbers, this should be an easier victory than a road game in Tempe.   The operative clause in that sentence was the one that led it off.  At least this one is being played at McKale.

Monday, January 21, 2013


The Sun Devils put up a decent fight until the last ten minutes or so.  It was as if their short bench finally got the best of them.  The Cats are definitely the deeper team, but what is interesting about our bench is that it is contracting.  On Saturday night, the bench played 55 minutes.  This was the 7th fewest minutes the bench has played all year.  The graph below shows the cumulative percentage of bench minutes played for the entire season.

In the early part of the season, as the rotation was forming, the bench was busy.  Against Long Beach State and Northern Arizona, bench players saw 86 and 83 minutes of time, respectively.  After the Texas Tech game, however, bench minutes started to contract.  The average game time the bench has seen has declined consistently over the last eight games.  The season average now stands around 65 minutes per game.  There is no doubt that this pattern is normal.  As coaches figure out what lineups work best, those lineups get increased playing time.   Nevertheless, I think it's worth asking whether leaning on the starters has led in this case to improved performance.  I'm not sure that it has.

First, let's look at defense.  The graph above shows the number of bench minutes versus the number points allowed per possession on the defensive end.  There is not much of a relationship here, and the one that is present is not statistically significant.  The overall pattern is that as bench players get more time, our defense gets better, but the relationship is so weak that we cannot be confident that it is real.  At best, we can conclude that our defense is unchanged regardless of how many minutes bench players see the floor.  What about offense?

The offensive numbers tell a similar tale but one that is more clear.   When the Cats go deeper into the bench, the offense scores more points, and this relationship is significant.  The only real outlier to this trend is the East Tennessee State game, where the bench had 91 minutes, but the offense only managed 1.0 points per possession.  According to our past performance, for every twenty minutes we get from the bench, the offense improves by approximately 0.1 points per possession, a meaningful difference.  In a typical game of 68 possessions,  this amounts to seven more points on the scoreboard.

One objection to this analysis might be that in blowouts, the offense runs very efficiently and the bench gets more minutes.  Therefore, this relationship might not be reflective of the Cats' offense as a whole.   If the same analysis is performed for games were the final point margin was equal to ten points or fewer, the same relationship holds, and in fact, it is even stronger.  Is it worth questioning whether bench minutes are moving in the wrong direction?  I'll leave that to the coaching staff.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Arizona State

When  I sat down to crunch the numbers for this game, I so badly wanted to learn that it would be an easy win.  Unfortunately, I cannot say that it will be.  Not only are the Sun Devils much improved over last year, but the Cats have been slipping somewhat, especially on the defensive end.   In a raw comparison of statistics, we are the better offensive team, and they are perhaps slightly better defensively.  You have to keep in mind, however, that that we have played a much more difficult schedule.  Ken Pomeroy puts ASU's strength of schedule at #317 and ours at #25.  Still, they have put up some decent numbers.

The team from Tempe has shot the ball very well from inside the arc, with a 2% advantage over the Cats.  We have been better from three and the free throw line.  Overall, our offense is  more efficient, measured by points per shot or possession.  The Sun Devils have allowed a lower percentage of shots to fall on defense and fewer points per shot.  Points per possession allowed on defense, however, is even at 0.91.  We are taller, and have been much stronger rebounding the ball, especially on the offensive glass. They turn the ball over less frequently.  The two teams are more or less identical in experience. If there is one major advantage we have, it is depth.  The Sun Devils rely heavily on their starting five, who get about 80% of the team's minutes.

When I simulate this one, the Cats are favorites, but that advantage is slight.  This is after all a road game, even if it is one that only requires a short bus trip up Interstate 10.   Here's what the simulation says.  Arizona has a 61.1% chance of victory and is a four point favorite.  The most likely score is 72-68.  I should note that both KenPom and Vegas are a bit more optimistic about our chances, at least at the time of writing this.  KenPom predicts a 70-63 win, and Vegas says we should win by six.  At times like this, I would prefer to just ignore the numbers and say that we're going to win by 20.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Scorer's: Pac-12 Edition

The Pac-12 is showing marked improvement over last year.  The conference has a number of quality wins to go with comparatively few bad losses. Still, the Pac has some work to do.  The Pac-12 has a conference RPI rank of 6, and KenPom has the Pac as the 5th best conference in the land.   Last year, the conference ranked 10th in the RPI, so things have improved.  Much of the change year over year can be attributed to an influx of talent.  For example, UCLA landed Shabazz Muhammad, generally considered to be the #1 or 2 ranked player in the country.  The Cats of course did well, too, landing three top twenty recruits.

Today, I want to look at the top scorers in the conference, and it's clear that freshman are having a significant impact on the league.  Like yesterday, I will look at three stats: points per minute, field goal attempts per minute, and points per field goal attempt.  This analysis is limited to players who have played at least 100 minutes and does not include last night's games.

The Scorers:
UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad is easily the most prolific scorer in the league.  Although Allen Crabbe leads all players in points per game, he plays nearly 35 minutes per contest.  Muhammad has averaged six fewer minutes, but ranks 4th.  When standardized to playing time, their positions are swapped.  Shabazz scores an astounding 0.63 points per minute played.  To put this number into context, a team comprised of five Shabazz's that played all 200 minutes of a game would score on average 126 points.

UCLA also has the 2nd ranked player in this category, freshman Jordan Adams, which may explain why UCLA's offense has been so effective this year.  The remainder of the top 5 include Brock Motum (WSU),  Allen Crabbe (Cal), and Devon Collier (OSU).   Arizona has no players in the top ten.  Mark Lyons ranks 11th in the league, and Solomon Hill is 19th. 

The Shooters:
In one of his early games at McKale, a fan screamed at Mark Lyons from the stands, "You shoot too much!"  It's true that Lyons takes more shots than any of his teammates, but he is not in the top ten in the league for shots per minute:

For field goal attempts per minute, once again, Shabazz Muhammad comes out on top, and he is easily the leader.  On average, Muhammad takes a shot about once every 2:07 that he's on the floor, and he leads the Bruins in shots attempted, despite having missed three games.  Brock Motum comes in a second at a rate of 2:13. C.J. Wilcox (Wash), Askia Booker (Col), and Allen Crabbe (Cal) round out the top five.  Mark Lyons ranks a distant 16th, taking a shot on average for every 2:46 of playing time.   Nick Johnson is the next Cat on the list, ranking 39th.  Compared to other teams in the league, the Cats have a much more balanced approached to shooting and scoring the ball.

The Quality Shooters:
Taking many shots generally leads to scoring a lot of points, and it's not surprising that coaches give the green light to players who are capable scorers.  However, a better measure of scoring efficiency is the number of points scored per field goal attempted, and the league has a different feel when viewed this way:

The topped ranked players in this statistic tend be big guys who have high field goal percentages but there are some exceptions.  Leading the league in this category is Oregon's Arsalan Kazemi, who transferred from Rice, closely followed by our very own Brandon Ashley.  Why are Ashley's numbers so high?  Well, he is shooting 56.4% from field on 78 attempts.  He also has 56 attempts from the free throw line where is shooting a respectable 73%.  He is a very efficient player.  Colorado's 6'6" point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie ranks third followed by Ben Carter (Oregon) and Omar Oraby (USC).  The Cats have three players in the top twenty.  After Ashley, Solomon Hill ranks 12th and Kevin Parrom ranks 17th.

Note that Shabazz Muhammad does not make the top 20.  He ranks 34th.  In fact, only one of UCLA's players makes the list, Jordan Adams, ranked 16th.  Muhammad takes many shots and scores a lot of points, but compared to other players in the league, fewer points are scored per field goal attempted. The same thing is true of many of the Pac's leading scorers.  Allen Crabbe is ranked 18th.  Motum is 46th.  This gives me that impression that when teams lean heavily on individual players for point production, they are more likely to take bad shots.  Perhaps it's not surprising that Oregon and and Arizona each have three players in the top 20 in points per shot.  Then again, so do the Beavers and Utes.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Scorers

One simple measure of a player's offensive ability is point total.  Mark Lyons leads the Cats with 234 points.  Solomon Hill is second with 218.  Point totals, however, do not take into account that some players play more minutes or take more shots than others.  Better measures of scoring proficiency factor in those variables.

I want to start by looking at points scored per minute played for the Cats. It turns out, at least for the top five, that point totals and points per minute produce the same rankings.  Mark Lyons comes in first at 0.5 points per minute, or about one point for every two minutes of playing time.  Numbers two through five are Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom, and Brandon Ashley.  I should note that I have excluded players who have played less than 100 minutes (Chol has 124; York has 50).   Viewed this way, it's pretty clear why the rotation has shaken out the way it has:

Of course, some guys take more shots than others.  In terms of raw attempts, Mark Lyons leads the way with 168 attempts, and Solomon Hill is second with 144.  In fact, the top five in field goal attempts, with one exception, are the same five as in points per minute.    The only difference is that Grant Jerrett ranks no. 5, while Ashley drops to no. 7.  Mark Lyons is easily the most trigger happy guy on the team, followed by Johnson, Hill, Parrom, and Jerrett as shown below.

At this point, for the most part it looks like those players who shoot a lot score a lot, and that is certainly the case.  Another way to look at this problem, though, is to ask who makes the most of each shot they take?  For each player, how many points are scored per field goal attempted?  Seen this way, things are shaken up a bit:

Brandon Ashely is by far the most efficient shooter on the team, scoring 1.68 points for every shot taken.  Solomon Hill is second at 1.51, and Kevin Parrom ranks third at 1.43.  The remainder of the top five are Lyons and Johnson, in that order.

It's important to note that Brandon Ashley is leading the team in this category and doing so as a freshman.  He is very efficient on the offensive end.  And from the prior graph, keep in mind that he ranks seventh in field goal attempts per minute.  In other words, he does not shoot often, but when does good things happen.  Does this mean that Ashely should shoot the ball more?  Perhaps.  I think it depends on whether these points are scored more often because he is  creating his own shots or benefiting from assists.  Whatever the answer is, I think the Cats would benefit from getting him more attempts.

Tomorrow, I will look at the same trends for the entire Pac-12.  One thing to look forward to from that post is that not only is Brandon Ashely an incredibly efficient score for the Arizona Wildcats, but he currently ranks second in that category compared to every player in the league.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Now that we've finally lost a game, I think we can all rest a little easier.  The worst thing about the Oregon game was its appearance and by that I mean the red, blue, yellow, and green uniforms on top of the crazy Oregon floor (which I actually like).  It was kind of a cacophony for the eyes.  It's interesting that all four of the remaining unbeatens fell within a five day period.  I'm sure they were happy over at ESPN when the Cats finally lost, since they never seemed to be believers in the first place.  That is why it gave me great pleasure to see Duke and Michigan also go down this weekend.

Last Tuesday, I put forth a cautionary note about defense, which was either very prophetic or a jinx. The Cats had one of their worst defensive performances in Eugene on Thursday night.   The graph below shows our opponents' field goal percentage for all games this season.  The game against the Ducks was our worst, when we allowed them to shoot 48%, and a ridiculous 63.6% from three.   That latter number is probably just bad luck.  If you gave those guys the same shots one hundred times, I'd be surprised if they went 7 for 11 more than 5% of the time.   Of course, as I previously noted, the poor defensive outing against Oregon continued the streak of bad defensive games that started back on Christmas against SDSU.

Thankfully, the Cats rebounded a bit against the Beavs, but I would not call last night's defensive performance "strong".  Let's just call it average.  Arizona kept Oregon State below 40%, which is a good rule of thumb number for a good defensive outing or team.  To date, 64 of the 347 teams in D-I hoops have allowed their opponents to shoot less than 40%.  Unfortunately, the Cats are not one of those teams.  Back in early December, I wrote about how the Cats had finally slipped beneath that 40% threshold, and they remained below it for quite some time:

That's our opponents' cumulative FG% for the entire season.  This stat bottomed out on December 22 after the Miami game, when we held the Canes to 36.5%.  Since then, it has been slowly rising.  Our best shooting defense was against East Tennessee State.  After the Oregon game, we crossed back over to the wrong side of the line.  If the Cats are going to have a strong showing in the Pac and beyond, they are going to have dramatically improve their shooting defense.  The Oregon State game was a good start.  Let's go up to Tempe next weekend and smother the Devils.  Most likely during the USC game on January 26, our foes will have taken their 1000th field goal attempt.  When that happens, I would like to see that fewer than 400 of them have fallen through the net.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What's the Problem Here?

So, I go away for a few days, come back, and everything is in disarray.  First, there is a crazy, last second, and accidentally bricked-in shot by the Buffs that everyone is whining about.  Then, the Cats go down to the wire with the Utes.   Finally, yesterday, the AP punishes us for winning both games.    This makes me want to never step away from the computer again.  Unfortunately, I’m going to miss the next two as well.  Damn it.

Anyway, this morning, I have been pondering my beloved Arizona basketball team and why they didn’t blow out the Utes and convincingly beat Colorado.  I don’t really know why.  There are many possible explanations.  For example, sometimes it’s all about chance.  Maybe the shots we usually make weren’t falling and those that Utah usually miss, were.   Maybe we aren’t as good as I thought we were, despite not having a lost a game in 14 tries.   To be honest, I have no idea what the answer is.  I do know that the next time I turn on the Pac-12 Network, it will be with slightly higher blood pressure.

Still, to try to find some answer to this quandary, I decided to look at the most simple measures of why teams win or lose- offensive and defensive efficiency.  Are the Cats playing poorly on one side of the floor or both?

The graph above shows offensive points per possession for all 14 games this season.  We started the season red hot but against sub-par competition.   Since the Clemson game, however, our offensive production has been relatively stable, hovering around or just over 1.0.  During this time, it has averaged about 1.04 points per possession.  For a typical game with 68 possessions, we score about 70 points.  In our first two conference games, our offensive efficiency numbers were nearly identical at 1.07 points per possession, even though the Colorado game had 86 possessions and the Utah game had 56. 

Since nothing seems to have really changed on the offensive side, then you may be thinking that the problem is on defense.  If you were, then, yes, your powers of deduction are strong.   The graph below shows points per possession allowed on defense for all 14 contests thus far.   Our first game of the season was not a good defensive outing, but things quickly settled down.  Against Florida, a very good team, we gave up more than one point per possession, but that's nothing to be embarrassed about.  What is apparent about our recent history is that our defense has been giving up a lot of points, with each of our opponents scoring at or near one point per possession.  Charleston Southern was our worst game defensively. They put up 1.04.  Utah was our second worst at 1.0. 

It's important to keep in mind that each of these teams differs in terms of their offensive prowess.  We should expect to give up more points to strong teams like Florida, SDSU, and even Colorado.   We should also expect to look very strong defensively against teams that struggle, like the Lumberjacks of NAU.  The graph below shows defensive points per possession vs. Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings for each of our opponents.

When viewed this way, things pattern pretty much as expected.   Our defense appears more efficient against bad teams and less efficient against good ones.   I have highlighted the last three games in red to make a second point.  [Sorry, I am about to go very nerd here]  First, the line that runs through the graph describes the best fit between these two variables.  You could use this line to predict the number of points per possession we would be expected to give up against any team.  For example, the Oregon State Beavers have a KenPom AdjO rank of 77, so in that game we would be expected to give up around 0.90 points per possession.  Points that fall above that line represent poor defensive outings- those in which we allowed more points than expected.  Points that fall below it are stronger defensive games.  Notice that our last three games have all been characterized by suspect defense.  The Utah game was was our worst defensive showing of the year, although the season opener was just as bad. 

If I was Sean Miller, I would be stressing defense all week as the offense seems to be humming along nicely.

I probably won't sign on again until Sunday if anyone out there is listening or cares.  The Oregon game is probably our most likely loss of the games remaining in the regular season. The game at UCLA on March 2 is a close second.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The Buffs started the season well with six straight wins, including a two point victory over the 16th ranked Baylor Bears.  It's not clear if that win was as significant as it seemed at the time because since then, Baylor has dropped three more, most troubling to College of Charleston.   The Buffs have fared better, but they lost two of three on the road.  They did not play well against the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie, and they were trounced by the Jayhawks in Lawrence.

In spite of taking two of three against the Cats last year, it would be a major upset if the Buffs pulled off a W in Tucson on Thursday.   The Cats have been statistically better in almost every category.  Colorado only comes out ahead in three point shooting, defensive rebounding, and shooting defense, and except for rebounding, those advantages are negligible.  Even for our perceived Achilles heel, turnovers, we have been better.  We cough it up on 21% of our possessions, compared to 22% for the Buffs.

The simulation gives us a 76.3% chance of victory with an expected ten point margin of victory.  The most likely score is 74-64 with a 2% chance of overtime.  Thirteen consecutive wins would be a nice way to start the season, especially at the start of conference play.   Against the Utes on Saturday, a win is nearly assured, but the same cannot be said for tomorrow's contest. Still, I like our chances.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pac-12 Defensive Preview

While the Bruins look very strong on the offensive side of the floor, the same pattern does not hold for defense.   UCLA is among the league's worst in a couple of important defensive categories.  The Cats, however, rank among the top defensive teams in the league.   That said, for the non-conference portion of the season, the best defensive team in Pac has probably been the Oregon Ducks.

The top shooting defense thus far goes to the Utes of Utah, who are holding opponents to just over 35% shooting.  That number, however, includes non-D-I competition.   The Cats rank fifth in shooting defense, although we are essentially tied for third with Colorado and Arizona State.  The Bruins and Huskies rank 9th and 10th, respectively, allowing 41% and 42.3% of their opponents shots to fall.

 Another important defensive statistic is opponents' turnover percentage, as shown in the lower graph above. Arizona has forced turnovers in 22% of possessions  Only the Ducks have been better at 23.4%.  Stanford's defense has also been excellent in this regard.  Notably, the Utes rank last in this category, and the Bruins and Huskies are in the bottom half of the league. 

Finally, the simplest and most pure measure of defensive efficiency is opponents points per possession as shown below.   The Cats rank third in the league, but our numbers are pretty much identical to those of Washington State for the second best defense.  Oregon's defense has been especially efficient, only allowing 0.813 points per possession.   The Bruins and Huskies once again are bringing up the rear.

On paper, Arizona and Oregon look strong both offensively and defensively.  UCLA is notable for having very strong offensive numbers but very poor stats on defense.  I expect Ben Howland to right the defensive ship in short order.  If he does, there could be a legitimate three way race for the league championship between Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA.  Another possibility is the real fight will be for second place as the Cats run away with first.