Saturday, March 22, 2008

Analysis: Davidson Preview

Check out the middle column. One of those things is not like the other:

Opponent Off v.Exp Def v.Exp
UNC 88.3 -12.6 93.5 +18.8
Duke 99.2 +1.1 107.4 +0.0
Charlotte 99.3 -10.5 102.9 -8.9
UCLA 99.1 +6.5 118.0 -9.2
NC State 96.1 -13.9 97.5 +0.0
Gonzaga 118.7 +16.3 114.3 -6.5

The above is the list of the top 100 (ok, NC State is #102) teams the Davidson Wildcats have played this year. They've notably outperformed their expected offensive performance in one of those games. They've won one of those games. Somehow, those happen to be the same game. They've notably outperformed their unexpected defensive performance in only one of those games, which happened to be UNC's first game of the year and Davidson's second--pardon me if I discount it.

Now that we've seen a little about what they do against better teams, let's check out their overall profile. They're a good but not elite team at both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. The keys to their offensive performance are:
--Good shooting. They shoot a lot of 3-pointers and shoot them well for a team that shoots them often. They're also even better, comparatively, on 2's.
--They don't turn the ball over. Yes, that's a familiar story, since that was UMBC's best attribute as well. Yes, those same Retrievers who turned the ball over 50% more against the Hoyas than they did regularly, and more than they had in any game they played in calendar year 2007.
--The Wildcats also don't get their shots blocked. I suspect that's a function of taking outside shots. Also, probably part of playing in a lousy conference (see above list of decent teams played).
--Except for Boris Meno (who really shouldn't ever shoot a 3), everybody they play is at least an average offensive player.

A couple more interesting features:
--They don't get fouled. Like, at all. Curry is a big reason behind this. Especially for a big shooter, he doesn't take many free throws.
--Their usage pattern is weird. Richards and Curry each play on average over 32 minutes a game. Sander, Gosselin, Meno, and Lovedale play a little over half the game on average. To complete the rotation, Archmabult, Rossiter, and Barr play 12-15 minutes a game. This changed a little on Friday against the Zags. Gosselin and Lovedale played more, Barr and Meno played less. This will probably vary a little on matchups, but it's something to watch for.

On the defensive side:
--Their opponents miss foul shots. Maybe they foul big guys. Maybe they're lucky. Maybe it's a function of playing bad opponents. Who knows-as far as I know, this is one of the more unexplained areas of figuring out tempo-free stats.
--They force a lot of turnovers. That's not surprising from a guard-oriented team, but they're only a little above-average w/r/t steals. Somebody who's watched them more than I have can probably say something sensible about this and why this is. Having a fairly high % of opponent TOs is something that's been fairly constant between games vs. good and non-good opponents, too, so it's not just a function of beating up weaker teams.
--They're surprisingly good on the defensive glass, to the tune of 23rd in the country in terms of preventing offensive rebounding. This was the key to their second half success against Gonzaga. The Zags hauled in 57% on the offensive end in the first half, and 19% in the second half, and efficiency fell accordingly, from 130.8 to 99.5. They're only average on the offensive glass, though, and were very average both halves against Gonzaga.
--There's no particular area defensively where they're very below average. They send opponents to the line a little more than average, but that's really it.
--Opponents tend to be perimeter-oriented. Not so much so as the Hoyas normally are, but a bit compared to the average. I don't have time to run the full opponent numbers, so it could just be who they've played (I don't believe that stat is opponent-adjusted) or that whole "playing bad teams" thing rearing its head again, but it's out there. I suspect this maybe a defensive strategy-Gonzaga isn't a three-point heavy team, but took half their shots in the first round from outside the arc. I don't think it's as important as the rebounding figures noted above, but part of the Zags' dropoff was going from 8-15 on 3's to 4-12 in the vesper half.

Keys to the game?
--[Insert normal verbiage about rebounding. If rebounding is vaguely normal/equal, fine.]
--[Insert normal verbiage about outside shooting. If Hoyas shoot really low and/or Wildcats shoot really well, not fine.]
--[Insert normal verbiage about good players taking good shots, and preventing good looks by other team.]
--[Insert verbiage about Stephen Curry.] The Hoyas can win limiting him to 15, and can win "limiting" him to 40. People who can speak more knowledgeably than I about basketball can answer which of these alternatives is better, and the coaching staff (who definitely fall into such category) will have to make the determination, to the best of their and the team's ability.

The Hoyas are a better team than Davidson. But, Davidson isn't UMBC, and the Hoyas aren't so superior they'd almost have to try to lose the game. The Hoyas are good enough that if they play a good game Davidson will have to be pretty close to perfect to win. Davidson's bad enough that if they stink up the joint the Hoyas will assuredly win. Probably something in between will happen, and the Hoyas will likely win, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Davidson win. KenPom says 67-61; I'll go with 68-63.
UPDATE (3/24/08 2101 CT): "Use the came" instead of "lose the game"? I swear, I was sober when I did that. Wonderful "disembodied hand" syndrome.

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