"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Marquette - High Risk Stock?

It’s been a rough week in Marquette-land. Not only has the team lost two straight games on the road, but they’ve looked bad doing it. Furthermore, because of the six days off between games, there is plenty of time for fans to stew and post aplenty.

A big part of the frustration with the team is that, while they have looked so good against some teams, the team has looked equally poor against WVU, Louisville, and UConn. Is there any reason that Marquette can look so good and yet so bad?

In our opinion, there are two basic reasons. The team has not been maintaining their early-season strengths, and they play a fundamentally risky strategy dictated by personnel.

Not dancing with the one what brought ya

Two of Marquette’s non-conference strengths were Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%) and effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%). As a reminder, OR% is the percentage of total possible offensive rebounds. Every defensive rebound by the opponent is a potential offensive rebound. Effective Field Goal Percentage is Field Goal Percentage adjusted to account for the extra value of a three point shot. Shooting 4/12 from three is the same as shooting 6/12 from inside the arc.

Marquette has been one of the strongest teams in the nation at Offensive Rebounding Percentage. At one point, we were securing over 45% of all available Offensive Rebounds. However, once Big EAST play started, the team has been gradually declining every game.

In addition, our offensive eFG% and our defensive eFG% are both suffering some terrible trends. Even against Duke and Wisconsin, we were above 50%. The team is just not playing well on both ends of the court when it comes to making and preventing baskets.

Of course, the team’s recent poor performance isn’t news. Neither does it explain the high variability of our recent wins and losses.

Inconsistency Means Higher Risk

The graph below takes a look at the point spread standard deviation for Marquette for the season. The average point spread deviation for college basketball is somewhere around 14-15 points (according to Dean Oliver's "Basketball on Paper"). An extremely inconsistent team has point spread variations around 22, which has been graphed on the line above.

As you can see, early in the season, the team was definitely more around the NCAA average, but lately we have been very inconsistent. This inconsistency is a sign that our risk has been exposed. In other words, if the team wasn’t using risky strategies, we’d be losing or winning by less.

Risk and Reward

As most people know, there’s a fundamental principle in investing. Lower risk investments have lower potential returns, and higher risk investments have higher potential returns. Well, it turns out that this principle applies to other things beyond just investments… such as basketball!

If a team is an underdog to an opponent, they can shift the game plan to account for more risk. It gives the underdog a chance to win over a favored opponent, but also a chance to get crushed.

So what is a “risky” strategy that can shift a game? Again, referencing Dean Oliver’s "Basketball on Paper"

  • Pressing – points off of the defense or gives up easy baskets
  • Shooting Lots of Threes – lower percentage shots that are worth more
  • Slowing the pace down – limits the opportunities a better team has to prove itself
  • Playing a zone – which causes opponents to shoot threes and slows down the game
  • Fronting the post
  • Releasing your guards
  • Sending your guards to the offensive boards
  • Playing particularly oversized or undersized lineups

A well-known example is Dick Bennett’s old UWGB teams that would slow the pace down in the NCAA tournament and shoot threes in an attempt to keep the game close and beat a more talented team.

Is Marquette a high-risk stock?

Recognize any of those risky strategies above? Pretty much the only strategies that the team doesn’t adopt regularly are a full press, slowing the pace down, and playing a zone. Even then, MU has an aggressive scheme on defense. Marquette manages to combat the high variability of their risky strategy by pushing the pace. The fundamental need for these strategies is our depth at guard (and weakness in the post). When the strategies work, we force turnovers, get easy points on the break, and grab offensive rebounds off of those missed shots. We run opponents out of the building.

However, when opponents shut down the transition game and/or play zone and/or slow down the pace, Marquette needs to hit extra threes in our recent games. Once the shots start missing, we’re toast and the higher risk strategy has been shut down.

We are almost certainly a high-risk stock.

How do we add some bonds to this portfolio?

Big men, duh! Think of big men like the nice, safe part of your portfolio. Marquette’s big men are like bonds. They aren’t flashy and they should contribute their min amount. If the big men disappear, like they have been lately, then there’s no balance. Taking the analogy further, a really talented big man is like owning a blue chip stock. They deliver consistent results and high growth, and maybe even a dividend. Unfortunately, our current roster makeup has none of those blue chips. (Okay, this analogy has exhausted itself)


It’s never any fun to watch Marquette get blown out, and it has to be even more frustrating to the coaching staff to see such inconsistency. The offensive rebounding and effective Field Goal percentage can improve, and part of the problem is execution on the court. However, it appears that our team “is what it is” in terms of makeup and strategy. The good news is that the coaching staff is already looking at things the same way. If you check out Coach Rab's latest entry (always a great read, but get an RSS feed please), you'll notice an emphasis on playing with confidence, rebounding, and continuing to attack with our quickness and athleticism.

If you’re a glass-half-empty sort of person, just recognize that the team plays some high risk strategies and try not to get too frustrated if we get blown out again. If you’re a glass-half-full type, hope we get hot at the right time and get better performance from our bonds (last one, I promise). The team does have a lot of talent, and can certainly go a long way given the proper circumstances and effort.


Anonymous said...

It seems unrealistic to expect the guards to play a significant role in rebounding and at the same time be driving to the basket. This is particularly counter productive as the season advances.

Once again the result of unbalanced recruiting (and poor coaching of the bigs)

Anonymous said...

I think what you're saying, Henry Sugar, is that the home, non-conference portion of our schedule was not an indication of what kind of team we are?

Playing those stiffs prepared us for absolutely nothing and is going to hurt us come tournament time -- either from a poor seeding or getting left at home in favor of a team with a better schedule.

Anonymous said...

I'm still buying Marquette stock this year - I believe it is a team that could well make a run. I would have been pretty discouraged in 1977 when the team lost three straight HOME games to drop to 16-6, but they turned it around. This article is right on the mark - we have to gamble and go for steals to cover for the lack of big men, just like McGuire had to run a triangle-and-two to hide that some of our great big men back then weren't the quickest.

The big encouragement to me is the Wisconsin and Notre Dame teams. We did show that we CAN beat a team that is dominant inside. Obvoiusly we can also get killed by them, but if we can get the tempo where we want it, I do believe that gives us a chance against anyone if we are hot. Yes, we could have another first round loss of even not make the tourney if we are cold, but my money's on this being the lowpoint of the season that ends with at least a couple of tourney wins.

But by all means, let's get a big man from the prep ranks. Nick Williams, can you at least get us Cousins for the 2009-2010 season before he goes pros? Jackson did wonders in just one season.

Henry Sugar said...

Look... let's not interpret my post as confirmation for any pre-existing beliefs that anyone may have about recruiting

The team's makeup sort of is what it is right now. It's not ideal (or even close) but there's nothing that will change it this year. Our team has some real strengths, but as Sun Tzu said, "Your strength becomes your weakness"

I'm not sure that it's the non-conference schedule (which also included Duke and UW) as it is the strategy or personnel employed by our opponents.

I'm still buying Marquette stock

Oliver said...

This post is right on the money regarding team makeup and risk.

Since we are inherently a hot and cold team, I do not like Crean's method of waiting for hot streaks during a cold game. This usually results in a slow decline to a 15 or 20 point loss, but prevents a 30point loss.

Crean needs to recognize the cold games when we are down 10 and make temporary strategy changes to compenstate and alter the game (spread zone, sending guards to the boards, press). This is risky (word of the day) and hard for a coach to do in real time during a game, but then again he is the one getting paid the big bucks. WHEN is the big factor with this strategy.

They are somewhat of a gimmick team (4 guards), but do not use many gimmicks other than their lineup.

Anonymous said...

Oliver makes a good point. I have to admit, there seems to be an inordinate amount of real routs in the Crean era.

Anonymous said...

You win by the 3, then you die by the 3. Fitz and Cubillan need to hit more CLUTCH 3's.

This game is still simple in that it is played 5 feet and in. If we lack big men then let the guards drive to the hole.

Mike said...

Must say Henry, I was not fond of these posts at first but they are growing on me. Nice work.

brewcity said...

I'm sick of hearing about the weak schedule. If our non-conference schedule was so weak this year, how do we currently rank as the 36th toughest schedule in the nation to date according to Sagarin?


This only includes games played to date.

p.s. I like the analysis, Sugar.