When coaches and computers agree

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Maybe Big 12 coaches are into tempo-free statistics. They sure vote that way.

The league’s coaches tabbed K-State as the preseason favorite to win the men’s title in 2010-11, followed by Kansas, Texas and Baylor. Oklahoma and Iowa State are tabbed to finish last.

In a nice bit of symmetry – or mere coincidence – Dan Hanner’s efficiency model predicted nearly the exact same results. Check it out.

1. Kansas State         Kansas State
2. Kansas                   Kansas
3. Baylor                     Texas
4. Texas A&M            Baylor
5. Missouri                 Missouri
6. Texas                      Texas A&M
7. Texas Tech            Texas Tech
8. Oklahoma St.        Oklahoma State
9. Colorado                 Colorado
10. Nebraska              Nebraska
11. Iowa State             Oklahoma
12. Oklahoma             Iowa State

Sure, there are a few differences, but that’s a fairly spot-on pair of predictions. There’s no serious disagreement on where teams land or how they’ll finish. Though it irritates Dan a little bit:

On the one hand, that is very comforting. This model is still in the experimental stage, so it is nice to see the model matches with what others are thinking. On the other hand, the whole point of the statistical model is to identify misperceptions, (things that other folks are over-looking).

A case of collective wisdom matching tempo-free analysis? Perhaps James Surowiecki should look into this.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

RE: Foul when leading by three? Do it.

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A crunch time debate just got stickier.

When John Ezekowitz’s posted a statistical analysis of whether teams should foul opponents late in games when leading by three in September, it reinforced conventional wisdom among coaches. Namely, don’t foul.

But Ezekowitz isn’t the only one who’s crunched these numbers. And those guys came to different conclusions: FOUL!

A detailed article by’s Luke Winn covers how Bill Fenlon and David Annis – one a coach at D-III school DePauw (Ind.), the latter an assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School – watched enough games to wonder if coaches left too much to chance by not taking opponents out of the game. Why give a team a chance to hit a 3-pointer and send it to overtime?

From Winn’s article:

[Mark] Few — who’s hardly alone among D-I coaches in his beliefs — is the anti-Fenlon. Annis, in his equation-heavy analysis, wryly labels the hunkering strategies “Few” and the fouling strategies “Non-Few.” He concludes that while the “Few” approach gives a team an 86.6 percent chance of winning, the “Non-Few” approach has win odds of 95.9 percent, with the chance of losing on a tip-out and a 3-pointer just 0.6 percent — so remote as to be a non-factor. Annis’ study, therefore, thinks fouling offers even more of an advantage than Fenlon’s; assuming that each team enters overtime with an equal chance of winning, Fenlon’s decision trees would yield win odds of 97.6 percent for the “Non-Few” approach and 90.5 percent for “Few.” That’s a 7.1 percent split compared to 9.3 in Annis.

The major caveat? There better not be much time left. More than 10 seconds, have your guys play defense. Less than that, maybe roll with the odds.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Down one, time running out. Call timeout?

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This is why coaches get big bucks.

The latest post from Harvard Sports Analysis Collective writer John Ezekowitz tackles whether a team trailing by one or two points late in the game benefits by calling a timeout. Unlike his conclusions regarding a tie game (don’t call time out), there’s quite a bit of gray here. His finding:

… the decision to call a timeout when down one or two points is heavily based on situational factors unique to each game. A coach must consider the make-up of his team, the make-up of his opponent, the flow of the game, and his team’s ability to execute set plays (ones drawn up in timeouts). As opposed to the tied game situation, where the data clearly favored the no timeout option, these two situations demand a nuanced decision that is apparently not influenced by an overarching advantage one way or the other.

That’s a tough one. A coach could feel comfortable rolling the dice when the game’s tied, but trailing by one or two points creates a different atmosphere. There’s more pressure and more at stake.

Any coach with an experienced team or a competent point guard would still probably let his guys play. A younger team or a school with a dominant big man might call timeout to set up a specific play.

But will it work? Your guess is as good as the data’s.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Tie game, time running out. Do you call time?


By the time John Ezekowitz is done, conventional wisdom in college basketball may be changed.

Last week, the writer at Harvard Sports Analysis Collective wrote a post detailing why teams don’t need to foul opposing teams when leading by three. This week, he tackles late-game timeouts -it’s good news for those of us who hate all the late timeouts and bad for controlling coaches.

Here’s what Ezekowitz found:

In the case of teams with the ball when the score is tied, the data clearly show that it is more effective not to call timeout. In my 2009-2010 dataset, 452 teams fit the above criteria. 235 of those teams called timeout, 217 did not. Of the teams that called timeout, only 35.7 percent scored on the subsequent possession. Teams that did not call timeout scored 53.0 percent of the time … teams that did not call timeout were twice as likely to score as teams that did.

This clearly shows that teams that do not call timeout score more often, but do they score more points? To assess this aspect, I looked at a team’s points per possession when they held the ball and the score was tied. Teams that called timeout scored an average of 0.773 points per possession whereas teams that did not call timeout scored an average of 1.06 PPP.

Thus teams that do not call timeout not only score more often, but also score more points on their possessions than teams that do.

Some coaches already do this, but it’s usually when they 1) have a point guard they trust to make a smart decision or 2) often rely on a savvy senior who makes smart plays. If neither is available, that’s the true test of Ezekowitz’s post – and that’s a tough pill for a coach to swallow with the game on  the line.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Foul when leading by three? No need

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NFL coaches have it easy. They have a cheat sheet that tells them when to go for two. But when a college basketball coach finds his team up by three with time running out, no one tells him if his guys should foul – and send the trailing team to the free-throw line – or simply play defense.

Kansas State elected not to foul Xavier’s Jordan Crawford during the NCAA tournament, and Crawford hit a 35-foot shot to send the ball into OT. Michigan State didn’t foul Maryland and ended up with the W.

So is there a right answer?

Harvard student John Ezekowitz put his Ivy League education to good work and determined there’s no advantage to either strategy. From his rundown at Harvard Sports Analysis:

In the 2009-2010 season, I found 443 instances where a team held the ball down three points during their last possession of a period (either the end of the 2nd half or an overtime period). In 391 of those cases, the team leading did not foul. In 52 cases, the team chose to foul. While the unequal sample sizes aren’t ideal, the 52 cases of fouling are significantly more than found in Winston’s NBA study (27).

Of the 52 teams that committed a foul, six lost the game for a winning percentage of 88.46%. Of the 391 teams that did not foul, 33 lost the game for a winning percentage of 91.56%. Both a two sample t-test of proportion and a Chi-squared test fail to reject the null hypothesis that there is a difference in winning percentage between the two strategies. In this sample, teams that did not foul won slightly more often. For the less statistically inclined, this means that there is no significant difference between the two strategies.

Who wants to bet fans choose to ignore (or not believe) this during the season?

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Place your bets on these five for breakouts

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Pat attention to these five names: Christian Standhardinger, Jordan Hamilton, Maalik Wayns, Reggie Johnson and Reeves Nelson. Luke Winn thinks those five college basketball players are poised for breakout sophomore seasons.

No, he didn’t just pull ’em out of a hat. He considered minutes played, possessions used and overall efficiency and ignored freshmen who played a ton of minutes. And those five candidates.

It’s similar to a 2008 story that ID’d Dar Tucker, LaceDarius Dunn, Austin Daye, Booker Woodfox and Corey Chandler as guys who would have big years. Tucker, Dunn and Woodfox all lived up to Winn’s prediction. Daye had a so-so season (though he was a first-round draft pick) and Chandler regressed (and was later dismissed from Rutgers).

This time around, Winn says there’s no obvious breakout pick such as Dunn, though I’d say Hamilton is the best bet. He’s a natural gunner who’ll likely be Texas’ leading scorer this season. Wayns’ stats might not be as gaudy as the others, but he’s certainly going to be a star.

As for a miss, I go Nelson. He may improve on his 11.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg an outing, but not by much. Malcolm Lee and Josh Smith will be UCLA’s main options. Reeves is just a supporting player despite his usage last season.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.