"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

Monday, December 20, 2010

Grading MUs performance through one semester

Several MU players will be getting their first semester grades – so it’s a good time to grade the team on how prepared they are to face the rugged upcoming schedule.

While we can throw out five creampuff games so far, as well as tomorrow night’s game vs. Mississippi Valley State, the four other games played to date give a fair appraisal of the competition MU will face in the Big East. Duke, Wisconsin, Gonzaga and UWM have a combined rating of 83.67 in Sagarin, virtually the same as the 83.43 average rating in the Big East so far this year.

Therefore I took the Four Factors that determine games and broke them into 10 grades, BUT I graded MU based only on their performance in those four tough games.
Here are the grades in the tough games, the best indicator of what it will take for MU to do well once again in Big East play:


Protecting the ball: B+
On average, teams turn the ball over 21% of their trips down the court, which would have meant 14 turnovers a game in MUs four tough games. The fact is MU turned the ball over only 12 times in the tough games (17%) of trips. That’s worth 2 extra points a game against the likes of Duke, and MU actually takes care of the ball better in these tough games then in blowout wins when they give up some sloppy but meaningless turnovers (turned it over 19% of trips in all games). A very good indication that MU will be good at protecting the ball when the game is on the line.

3-point shooting: C-
MU was one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country last year. MU is not nearly as good this season at 31% compared to the typical 34%. However, in the big games they’ve hit 32%, helping themselves against Wisconsin (4 of 9) and Milwaukee (8 of 19), while hurting themselves against Duke (4 of 20) and Gonzaga (6 of 21). The fact is 3-pointers are the most unpredictable part of the game, and while DJO can help if he finds his rhythm, there will be good and bad games.

2-point shooting: A
The biggest positive change over the past several years is that MU is now one of the best 2-point shooting teams in the country. Their 55.4% shooting is 7th best in the country, much better than the national average of 47.5%, but MU is even more impressive against tough teams. In the four tough games, MU has averaged 38 two-point and hit 20 (52%). Hitting over half their 2-pointers despite two of those four games being against the No. 1 defense in the country in Duke and a Wisconsin team that has allowed opponents to hit less than 40% of their 2-pointers is remarkable. The performance so far is unbelievably good and truly puts a high ceiling on what MU could do this year.

Getting to the line: C+
When a team gets to the free throw line they average 1.4 points a trip, when they don’t they average less than 1 point a trip. It is that important. MU is getting to the line at a higher than average rate (FTA/FGA = 43%, compared to the typical 38%). However, in the four tough games they have been slightly below average (34%), about what would be expected against tough teams but nothing exceptional, as they have averaged going 14 of 19 from the line.

Offensive Rebounding: D
A typical team grabs the offensive rebound about once every three times they miss a shot. At first glance, the fact that MU grabs 38% of their misses looks a little above the 33% average. However, MU has been very bad at grabbing offensive rebounds in the four tough games, averaging grabbing only 7 offensive rebounds out of 30 misses (24%). The low point was certainly UWM, when MU grabbed 2 offensive rebounds on 24 misses, but the other three tight games were also below average. This has to improve.


Forcing Turnovers: A-
MU has forced turnovers on 24% of opponents’ trips down the court, slightly above the 21% average. But what is even more impressive is it doesn’t matter who they are playing, because MU forced both Duke (19 turnovers) and Gonzaga (16 in a slower paced game) to turn it over 24% of the time. Wisconsin is the only team who has been able to take care of the ball against MU. In the four tough games MU has won the turnover battle an average of 15 to 12, a very impressive difference against very tough competition. What is even more helpful is that most of MUs forced turnovers are on actual steals giving them the chance for fast breaks, while very few of MUs offensive turnovers are on opponents’ steals.

3-point defense. C
I know everyone wants to give MU terrible marks in defending the three after watching inferior teams hit open treys. However, these baskets don’t mean much in blowouts. While MU gives up 38% on threes overall compared to a typical 34%, the fact is that MU toughens up against tougher opponents, allowing an average day of 7 of 18 (36%) in the tough games. MU has held Duke, Gonzaga and Wisconsin below their 3-point average. Basically MU's tough opponents have averaged 7 of 18 while MU has averaged 6 of 17 in those four tough games – so MU is only losing the 3-point exchange by one trey a game while trying fewer of them, really not much of a difference.

2-point defense: D
Outside of rebounding, MU's biggest problem in the tough games has been defending the 2-point shot. Overall, MU has allowed only 44% 2-point shooting (below the 47.5% typical average), BUT in the four tough games MU has allowed opponents to average a 23 of 42 shooting from inside the arc. So despite MU being one of the top 2-point shooting teams in the country, they are actually losing the 2-point exchange in the tough games.

Keeping opponents off the line: A+
The strongest part of MU’s game is not letting teams get to the line. MU only allows an average of 24% FTA/FGA (free throws attempted vs. field goals attempted), which is way below the 38% average. However, what is even more amazing is the MU is EVEN BETTER against the tough teams, as that figure dropped to 19% against Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and UWM. MU has won the free throw exchange by an amazing 7 points per game in the four big games, going 14 of 19 from the line on offense while only giving up 7 of 11 to those four opponents. And +7 at the line will win a lot of games.

Defensive Rebounding: F
Finally, we get to the huge deficiency that MU must correct to make the tournament. MU's four tough opponents have averaged missing 33 shots a game against MU, and 13 of those 33 times they have grabbed the offensive rebound (42%). Obviously this has contributed to the high 2-point shooting by opponents as well, as many are stickbacks. What is really amazing though is that MU's overall defensive rebounding has been above average in 6 of those 8 halves – it has just been unbelievably abysmal in the second halves against both Gonzaga (15 offensive rebounds allowed) and Wisconsin (12 offensive rebounds allowed). Hopefully this is just an example of an inexperienced team that has lost confidence twice when the snowball has started down the hill and will level out.

Based on www.kenpom.com, MU has lost by 5 points to both the #1 and #9 team in the country (Duke and Wisconsin), lost by 3 to the 54th best team (Gonzaga), and won by 3 at UWM.

Some will protest that I include the UWM game, but that game needs to be included for several reasons:

1. UWM was by far the 4th toughest test MU faced and by adding them the overall average of the four teams is just above the average competition faced in the Big East according to Sagarin’s ratings,

2. As I’ve noted repeatedly, no Big 10 or Big East team has gone into a Horizon gym and won by more than 4 points in the last three years so playing at UWM was not like facing 5 creampuffs at home, and

3. According to the Sagarin ratings, a game AT UWM is exactly as tough as if MU had played the #74 team in the country (Nebraska) at the Bradley Center.

Certainly an inexperienced MU team may need to make a few adjustments to change close loses into close wins. Perhaps a little more physical play underneath would give up a few more foul shots but also stop allowing as many offensive rebounds and lay-ups.

But MUs ability to stand toe-to-toe with tough teams and so clearly win the turnover and free throw exchange is one more indication that there is a very high ceiling on this team.


JohnPudner said...

In response to a catch by a reader, I should correct the wording on point 2 above to:

"When MU pulled out the UWM game, it made Big East/Big 10 schools only 3-3 in Horizon gyms SINCE THE START OF THE 2008-09 SEASON, with none of the three wins by more than four points. However, 10 days later Purdue did win big at Valpo for the first lopsided win in a Horizon gym since the 2007-08 season."

The Ohio State at Butler game was mentioned, but unless Pomeroy has it wrong and my memory is fading (which it is to some degree), that was another Horizon League win on a home court as #12 Butler beat #5 OSU 74-66.

jw said...

Outstanding analysis and perspective, Bama. Thanks.

Hunt said...

Thanks for some perspective, and some stats-backed positivity bama, your post was a great early Christmas gift. Let's hope our inexperienced boys grow up quickly in the Big East.

My question is what do the CrackedSidewalks guys think we would have to do in the Big East to make the NCAA tourney IF we lose at Vanderbilt next week, giving us no good out of conference wins (outside of UWM but no one really wants to count that as a "Good" OOC win)?