"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

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Faster Pace and the link between Offense and Defense

The most recent article by Luke Winn, where he interviews Buzz Williams, had a specific mention about trying to make the game longer and increase the number of possessions. This got me thinking about what a faster pace would mean for Marquette. I wanted to look at what impact that would have on their Offensive/Defensive Efficiency, the Four Factors, and their consistency. However, something interesting popped up while looking into this area.

How will a faster pace impact Marquette?

A 90th percentile view of the pace is between 73 and 62 possessions per game across all Division 1 schools. In 2008, Marquette checked in at 68.1 possessions per game. Marquette's possessions range 90% of the time was also in between 62 and 73 possessions per game. In other words, the reasonable upper bounds of the number of possessions per game for Marquette would be an extra five possessions / game. It's a faster pace, sure... but is it really that much faster?

There's a concern that a faster pace will translate to sloppier play (more bad shots, turnovers, etc). However, if you look at the 2008 Pomeroy Game Plan for Marquette, there was no correlation between pace and either Marquette's offensive or defensive efficiency. That's good. It means that should Marquette increase the pace of games, there should not be a detrimental impact on the team's efficiency.

What about the "Four Factors" of effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover rate (TO%), offensive rebounding percentage (OR%), and free throw rate (FTR)? Are any of those impacted by an increase in pace? Again, there's more good news, in that there is a statistically significant correlation with our team's eFG% and pace. Of all the Four Factors, eFG% is by far the most important for every team. If Marquette is able to improve the pace, then a team similar to last year should be a better offensive team.

Another aspect that concerned us last year was the team's Inconsistency, which we compared to a High Risk Stock. Without getting into the math, the stats theory is that an increase of possessions will help reduce the inconsistency. Think of it like this... your odds of getting a 50/50 split flipping a coin are far greater if you do it 100 times instead of 10. However, based on some simple analysis, I don't believe that a net change of five possessions per game will actually make a significant difference in the team's consistency.


What was interesting was something that we stumbled upon regarding inconsistency while looking into the numbers. At the time of the High Risk Stock article, we attributed the inconsistency to the fundamental makeup of the roster. Obviously, due to the loss of Barro and Mbakwe, this lack of big men has only gotten worse. However, it appears that the problem may be more fundamental.

No other team in the Big EAST had as strong of a relationship between Offensive Efficiency (AdjO) and Defensive Efficiency (AdjD) as Marquette (math note - based on covariance). When our AdjO was better than average, then our AdjD was better than average. Unfortunately, the converse was true as well, leaded to maddening games where the Defense was terrible and the Offense looked inept.

Going further, we see that there were many teams for which this was not true. Here are the Big EAST teams that were able to keep their offensive and defensive performances separate:

  • DePaul, USF, ND, Seton Hall, Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse, Rutgers, Villanova (in order of most separate to least separate)
Here are the teams that had a strong link between offense and defense:
  • Marquette, WVU, St. John's, Cincy, UConn, Providence (in order of most linked to least linked)
  • (Georgetown ended up right in the middle)
Of particular note is that a team like Villanova was able to avoid the strong link between Offense and Defense. Villanova doesn't have a particularly big team (although they're improving in that area in recent years), so there is hope that it's not particular to roster makeup.

Does this covariance mean that the Defense makes the Offense go? Many times last year we could hear the quote, "our defense drives our offense". Honestly, I don't know. Part of it might be the mindset instilled by the coaching staff to keep the players focused on defense. However, it isn't a good thing that the two areas are so linked. Intuitively, one wants a Defense (or Offense) that stays constant no matter how efficiently or inefficiently the offense is playing.

In addition, If you look at the Efficiency Margin tracker from BE play through the rest of the season, we can see a view of how well the team played. There was a decline in the level of play, culminating with a nadir in the games against UL and UConn, some subsequent improvement leading up to right before the Georgetown game. There was then some additional decline in play before improvement during the tournament.

During the top three occasions in conference last year when we had our best efficiency margin (against Providence, @Nova, and Rutgers), the team had the least link between Offense and Defense. In addition, the top three points where we had the greatest link between Offense and Defense were SHU#1 (that ugly, ugly game), @WVU, and @UL. I think's it's fair to say that not only can Marquette separate the link between Offense and Defense, but that it's in the team's best interest to do so. Now, as for how the team can emphasize this separation, that's up to the coaching staff.

Based on last year's performance, we definitely see benefits for Marquette to try and push a faster tempo. Along the way, we realized that inconsistency is because of the strong link between the team's Offensive and Defensive performance. Hopefully, along the way the coaching staff will get the team to be more consistent on at least one side of the court.

1 comment:

Oliver said...

Great post Henry. I think the link is based on the glaring weakness of our half-court offense.

In the last two years, I think we have been inept in the half-court set. Our offense is inherently poor unless we score off transition. The strong defense has masked the inability of Crean (and his 1000-play playbook) to generate a half-court offense.

Therefore, the link should disappear if Buzz figures out how to get them to score on a set play.