marcus smart

CBT Exam Week Essays: How useful are advanced statistics?


For college students and college basketball fans, Exam Week is the worst week on the schedule. For students, this week is the culmination of three months worth of procrastination, cliff notes and Wikipedia. For college basketball fans, it’s the lightest week of hoops action we will see all season.

With so very little going on this week in terms of action, the staff at College Basketball Talk is going back to school. Over the next five days, the CBT Staff will be responsible for answering an essay question in one of five different subjects.

Monday’s exam covered sociology. Tuesday’s exam was on psychology.

Today we have the dreaded math exam.

The use of tempo-free and advanced statistics has become more commonplace in recent years thanks to the work of guys like Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner. What is your opinion on the use of advanced statistics as analysis aids. What value do these metrics add to post-game evaluation in your opinion. Please use at least one example of accurate or misleading statistics in your response.

By Rob Dauster

The advent of advanced statistics in college basketball is incredibly useful.

Between Kenpom’s efficiency profiles, the in-depth player and team breakdowns available on Synergy and all of the other sites doing yeoman’s work to try to enlighten us about and dispel myths about our favorite teams, there’s no shortage of data available for a college hoops junky to get their fix.

The key, however, is understanding how to use that information in concert with what actually happens on a basketball court.

Advanced statistics have really taken off over the last decade in all sports, not just basketball. The most famous case is that of Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics GM that was the subject of the ‘Moneyball’. He used sabermetric principles to find value in players that others had cast aside, and as a result was able to build the A’s into one of the best teams in baseball despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league.

But focusing on stats works much better in baseball than it does in hoops because baseball is a game made up of a series of events involving individuals. A pitcher throws a pitch, the hitter swings and puts the ball in play. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Basketball is a much more free-flowing, one that requires five players to work together both offensively and defensively. So much of what happens on the court — Who can execute offense effectively? How well does a team communicate defensively? Is a player a good rebounder because he’s simply bigger and more athletic, or does he understand how to box out? Who is a team’s leader? — doesn’t show up on a stat sheet or a Kenpom page.

The perfect example is the argument involving Marcus Smart.

Smart, a freshman, is Oklahoma State’s starting point guard, a top ten recruit and, thus far, the difference maker for the Cowboys. He’s averaging 13.0 points, 7.4 boards and 5.0 assists for the Pokes, but what he’s done setting a tone defensively and in the locker room is why Travis Ford’s club currently owns wins over Tennessee and NC State. He’s played like an all-american, and was called the best player in the country through the first month of the season by Mike DeCourcy.

DeCourcy doesn’t believe in advanced analytics, however, which is why he’s probably unaware that Smart has an effective field goal percentage of 39.7% — he’s shooting 20.6% from three and 43.9% from two — and an offensive rating of 99.3 (he averages 0.993 points per possession used, which isn’t very good) despite using 28.0% of Oklahoma State’s possessions when he’s on the floor, a very high number. Those ugly numbers are why John Gasaway, one of college basketball’s leading ‘stat nerds’, has Smart ranked as the 14th-best freshman thus far this season.

And, as I wrote yesterday, neither of these gentlemen are right, because you simply cannot ignore a) the effect that Smart’s presence on the floor has had for Oklahoma State this year, or b) just how inefficient Smart has been with the ball in his hands. He may be a great leader, a great defender and a better-than-we-thought creator, but that doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t shot the ball well at all and he’s turned the ball over far too often.

Advanced statistics are most effective when they are used to help quantify trends that your eyes tell you exist or as a way to determine what to watch for when a certain team takes the floor.

It’s inarguable that understanding efficiency breakdowns and possession-based logs, like Synergy’s database, make you smarter about basketball and what a specific team or player is doing on the court.

But it’s also impossible to use those number correctly without being able to watch a game and understand what is happening and why it happens that way.

The two schools of thought are not mutually exclusive. But if they aren’t used correctly, they are misleading and unnecessary.

Professor’s Notes: I really wanted to give you a bad grade. The rise of #DausterMath gave me little reason to believe that you would be able to handle this question. But you nailed it. Kudos for the use of words like “advent”, “yeoman”, and the ‘Moneyball’ reference was sublime. You were on pace for an A+, but points are being docked for starting a sentence with “And”.


No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.