"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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Analyzing Murray State's Elite eFG%

The most important of the Four Factors in predicting outcomes is effective field goal percent, or eFG%. That statistic combines a player's two & three point field goal shooting into one number. The calculation is: (FGM + (0.5 x 3PFGM))/FGA. What this does is effectively adds the additional 50% of points scored for a three to a two. To show how it works, here is Markus Howard's current eFG% calculation:

Field Goals Made: 243
Three Point Field Goals Made: 116
Field Goal Attempts: 573

So the calculation is (243 + (0.5 x 116)) / 573 = 52.5 eFG%

The reason I bring this up is because two numbers on Murray State's team page on kenpom really stand out. Those numbers were 55.2 Offensive eFG% & 46.4 Defensive eFG%, both top-25 nationally. While the other three factors can influence outcomes (turnovers have significantly impacted Marquette's results) there is no single factor more important in predicting a winner than eFG%, which immediately gave me concerns about Murray State's chances of pulling off an upset.

I decided to dig in a bit deeper to determine how valid those numbers were. Their respective eFG% are elite for diametrically different reasons. Offensively, they are only average on three-point attempts but rank 5th in the nation at 57.2% on two-point attempts. Defensively, they are elite on three-point attempts, ranked 4th at 28.5%, but only slightly above average on two-point attempts. We'll start with the offense.

2PFG% Offensive Breakdown

As their shooting inside the arc is the primary factor propping up their lofty offensive eFG%, I was interested in looking at the quality of 2PFG% defenses the Racers were facing. I divided their opponents into three categories: those that finished top-100, bottom-100, & anywhere in between in 2PFG% defense. Over the course of the season, they played 6 games against teams in the top-100, 10 games against teams from 101-250, & 13 games against teams that were sub-250. Here is the breakdown:

Rank Games 2PFGM 2PFGA 2PFG%
Top-100 6 117 221 52.9
101-250 10 197 372 53.0
Sub-250 13 319 513 62.2
Total 29 633 1,106 57.2

Against the top-250, the Racers were consistent. Their overall 2PFG% in the top two categories combined was 52.95%. That number would rank 66th in the nation, but playing 44.8% of their games against sub-250 2PFG% defenses allowed them reach that top-5 ranking. The Racers dominanted weak opposition to inflate their offensive 2PFG% & thus their overall eFG%.

What does that mean against Marquette? First of all, Marquette is ranked 19th in 2PFG% defense, which is far better than the best ranked team in that category the Racers have faced all year. Theo John is also a more prolific rim protector than any player they have faced this year. At a glance, Murray State's greatest offensive strength will be tested in a fashion unlike any game they have played this season.

Further, Murray State lost just 4 games all season. 2 were against teams in the top-100 category & 2 were against teams in the 101-250 category. Against the 7 best 2PFG% defenses they played, Murray State was just 4-3. This certainly doesn't guarantee victory, but that record is certainly less daunting than their 25-4 overall mark in D1 games.

3PFG% Defense

As I think about how Murray State hasn't faced a defensive team like Marquette, I wondered if they have faced a lineup of shooters as prolific as Marquette has. My initial thought was no. Not only is Marquette ranked 9th in the nation, but they boast four three-point shooters that connect on over 40% of their attempts beyond the arc. Comparably, the Ohio Valley Conference also has four three-point shooters that connect on over 40% beyond the arc. That's four on all 12 teams.

Naturally, it's not as simple as that. The league may not have shooters as prolific as Marquette's quartet of Markus Howard, Joey Hauser, Sacar Anim, & Sam Hauser, but they do have teams that have multiple high-level three-point shooters. Austin Peay has three players that shoot 38.6% or better. Belmont has 5 players that shoot over 35.6% from deep. In non-conference play, they played Auburn & Southern Illinois, both of whom have four shooters hitting on 37% or better beyond the arc. So let's take a look at the numbers:

Rank Games 3PFGM 3PFGA 3PFG%
Top-100 10 82 243 33.7
101-250 9 49 193 25.4
Sub-250 10 46 184 25.0
Totals 29 177 620 28.5

The consistency was more evident in the lower two quadrants for defensive 3PFG%. Murray State definitely allowed the top teams they played to shoot the three better. That said, they did have two losses in the first category & one in each of the lower categories, so these numbers feel less significant as half their losses came to lesser three-point shooting teams.

In the Racers' four losses, the only team that did not qualify in the top-100 of either category was Alabama, who beat Murray State by outscoring them by 14 at the free throw line on 18 more attempts. The other three teams to beat them was top-100 in at least one of the other categories, & in Belmont's case, both.

Now admittedly, every team in the country plays teams that have deficiencies. Just like Murray State, Marquette is able to pad some stats against teams that simply aren't as good. This isn't meant to be indictment of the OVC. If you only look at how Murray State's offense did against top-100 2PFG% defenses, their 52.9% 2PFG% would still be 68th in the country, in the 81st percentile. If you only look at how Murray State's defense did against top-100 3PFG% offenses, their 33.7% would be 135th, in the 62nd percentile. So even when only Murray State's play against the best of their opposition is factored in & compared to how the rest of the country played against full schedules, the Racers are still well above average at both 2PFG% offense & 3PFG% defense. There is no disputing that Murray State is good at scoring inside the arc, good at defending the three, & their eFG% numbers have a basis in reality.

That said, Marquette will be the first team to play Murray State who is top-20 in both categories & is the only team below a 2-seed that can claim that. This doesn't guarantee a result, but Murray State has yet to play any team that has shown the ability to match them strength for strength as decisively as Marquette has this season. If you're looking for a 5/12 upset pick, the West may not be the best region to pick. Murray State's offense & defense are both built on eFG% numbers that have been benefited greatly from how effectively the Racers have handled the bottom of their schedule. It will be interesting to see how they handle a team that can challenge their greatest attributes from a position of strength.

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