Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Mescheriakov

This morning, the Georgetown athletic department announced that Nikita Mescheriakov will be transferring (link).
"Nikita expressed the interest to transfer to a school where he knows he will get more playing time than he feels he will get here," Thompson said. "We wish him the best in his future endeavors and appreciate his hard work."

I'm not really interested in engaging in the snark, vitriol or lunacy that's popped up today on the popular Hoyas forums/blogs (linklink, link), and if you've come here looking for that, you've stumbled into the wrong place.

What I was curious about was the rationale for Mescheriakov's abrupt increase in playing time last season, starting with the home game against Cincinnati and his even-more-surprising move into the starting lineup for the road game at Syracuse.  Now obviously I can't know what Coach Thompson's thinking was last season when he bumped up Mescheriakov's role, but I wondered if there was something in last year's stats that would indicate why Nikita became a major player.

A couple of items before we jump in:
  • Heading into the Cincinnati game, Georgetown had lost 5 of 7 games, being outscored by 4.5 points on average (or a Net Efficiency of -6.9, to be tempo-free). This was the stretch from the rout vs. Pittsburgh to the road loss at Seton Hall.  We'll use this stretch as the frame of reference for the swooning Hoyas, pre-Mescheriakov's expanded role.
  • Over the next 12 games Nikita played consistent minutes, and started in the final eight - the Hoyas went 4-8 during this stretch.  I'm ignoring the final game of the season (at Baylor in 1st round NIT), where Mescheriakov started but only played 5 minutes.

First, lets look at some basic team stats for each segment:

.                 Pre-Nikita                 With Nikita 
.              Gtown      Opp             Gtown       Opp
Record           2-5                        4-8

Pace            66.5                       65.5
Effic.         102.9     109.8             97.5       99.1
Net                  -6.9                        -1.6
eFG%            49.7      50.9             51.5       47.9
TO%             21.0      17.9             23.9       21.8 
OR%             35.8      40.3             31.5       32.9 
FT Rate         28.5      18.2             20.8       31.3

The first myth to dispel is that Mescheriakov was some sort of massive defensive liability.  Once he was added to the rotation, the Hoyas defensive efficiency improved by more than 10 points per 100 possessions, and three of the four factors improved, most noticeably defense rebounding [h/t Dan Hanner].  Unfortunately, this drop came at the expense of the offense - the Hoyas were scoring more than 5 less points per 100 possessions in return.  Regardless, the result was that Georgetown was more competitive with Mescheriakov in the line-up, at least on paper.

But there's the rub - while the efficiency and other underlying stats improved, the win-loss record didn't, or at least not much.  From a previous post, I discussed how to estimate expected win-loss record based upon net efficiency, so we can do that here:
.                 Wins  Losses   Exp Win  Exp Loss   Luck
Pre-Nikita          2     5        2.2      4.8      -0.2
With Nikita         4     8        5.4      6.6      -1.4

So when we discuss how "unlucky" Georgetown was last season, quite a bit of that bad "luck" came with Mescheriakov getting major minutes.  I put the word luck in quotations here because it's not entirely clear that we're talking about luck in the literal sense.  Read this for further discussion of luck versus skill, etc.

Of course, we're looking at small enough samples that the differences between opponents played could be confounding our results.  To address this, I'll compile Performance stats during each stretch - remember that Performance is points scored (or allowed) minus expected points scored (or allowed).

To keep things neat and simple, here I'll use expected efficiencies rather than actual expected points.
.                     Offense                 Defense
.              Expect  Actual   Net    Expect  Actual   Net     Overall
Pre-Nikita      103.6   102.9  -0.7     103.2   109.8  -6.6      -7.3
With Nikita     103.4    97.5  -5.9      97.7    99.1  -1.4      -7.3

Once we account for competition,we see that the apparent improvement in Georgetown's play from Mescheriakov's insertion in the lineup is due entirely to easier competition.

Specifically, the Hoyas should have scored at about the same rate in each set of games, and actually did score about as well as expected during the early swoon.  Once Nikita was in the rotation, the offense struggled.  Meanwhile, more than half of that great leap in improvement on the raw defensive numbers is accounted for by simply playing a set of teams with a worse offense on average, while Mescheriakov was in the rotation.

To be clear, we can still see that defensive play did improve at the cost of the offense with Nikita getting major minutes, but the overall result was a wash (-7.3 vs. -7.3).  In the end, having Mescheriakov as part of the rotation didn't help to pull the Hoyas out of their tailspin, but it also didn't really hurt.

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