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.

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