"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

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Defense and Projections

Last year, in early January, I wrote an article wondering if Defense was Marquette's Achilles Heel.  It's worth re-reading, but here is an update.

Teams that are elite have good defenses.  In particular, over the past five years, here are the average defensive rankings of teams at each level of the NCAA tourney.

  • Won their first game (#34)
  • Sweet Sixteen (#26)
  • Elite Eight (#20)
  • Final Four (#17)
It was the exception rather than the norm for a team like Marquette (defensive rank of #61) to make the Sweet Sixteen last year.  In fact, over the last five years, only twelve teams with a defensive rank worse than 50 (15% of teams) make the Sweet Sixteen.  Only three teams with a defensive rank worse than 50 made the Elite Eight (8%), and one of them was VCU!  It happens, but the odds are against you.  This was a giant concern for Buzz's teams, which had never been better than a defensive rank of 50 over three years.  Tangent - it was a total freak that the 2003 team (defensive rank of #101) made the Final Four... helps that they were #1 offensively.

Not all aspects of defense are the same.  In particular, defensive eFG% is twice as important as forcing turnovers, three times as important as preventing offensive rebounds, and fourteen times more important than not letting your opponent get to the free throw line.  Marquette's defense under Buzz has been weakest in the most important area (eFG%) and strongest in the least important area (free throw rate)

Last night's result against South Florida was the best Big East defensive game in Buzz's tenure.  Marquette held the Bulls to 0.71 ppp on 40% eFG and a turnover rate of 37%.  More importantly, although this was a great result defensively, it wasn't a particularly unique result this year.  Here's where things currently stand defensively for Marquette, in comparison to the last three years.  

Marquette has turned their defense into the #24 overall unit.  In other words, MU's defense is playing somewhere between the average Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight defense for the first time under Buzz.  There's also a marked difference in the defensive priorities, with our strengths now in the two most important aspects of defense.  Note that at this time last year, Marquette's defense was ranked #70.  Finally, as Pudner wrote a week ago, the defense is ranked higher than the offense for the first time under Buzz.  

Should expectations be high for the remainder of the season?  Consider this, according to the Pomeroy projections (subscription required - but seriously, it's the best value on the Internets).
  • Marquette has about a 93% chance of finishing with 11+ wins (5-5 down the stretch)
  • About an 80% of finishing with 12+ wins (6-4)
  • ~50% of finishing with 13+ wins
  • and for you real optimists, about a 20% of finishing with 14 wins or more
A winnable road opportunity awaits this weekend at Villanova.  Saturday's game will prove an additional marker of how good Marquette can be this season, both overall and defensively.  Here's to continued defensive success for the rest of the season and beyond.

1 comment:

Tim DeRoche said...

What are the comparable average offensive ranks for teams reaching each level? Would be interesting to compare...as one data point re: which is more important in the tourney, offense or defense.