CBT Exam Week Essays: How useful are advanced statistics?

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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”.

GRADE: A

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.