Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mad Breakdown of Stats, Styles, and Coaching Shifts

What happens when you coach a team that finished first in its conference in free throw percentage, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, and rebounding defense?

You get fired. At least, in Kentucky you do...and if the school colors are blue and white.

Perhaps a trip to the Final Four could have saved Billy Gillispie. Though, according to new Wildcats coach John Calipari, only banners will save one from being banished in Lexington. National championship banners.

One could argue that Coach Cal brings with him a coaching style that allowed his Memphis team to finish at the top of Conference USA in field goal percentage defense and just a touch away from the best shooting team in the league (though free throws are not included in that...or 3-pointers). What else did his Tigers boast? Shot blocking, steal making, and rebounding. They were No. 1 in their conference in all of those categories.

Oh, and the Tigers outscored the Wildcats on average by a whole point, 75.1 to 74.1, placing the former third overall in Conference USA. Had the latter averaged the same amount, they would have moved up three ranking slots for fourth in the SEC.

What does all of this mean? Not too much in other years, perhaps, knowing that surprises and underdogs and Cinderellas have appeared in March. But this year, it's apparent there are two aspects of the game that scream consistency: scoring offense and rebounding, and the second is specific to the offensive end. Yes, being able to get stops is important, but not so much as point production (on the court and with the fans). Field goal percentage defense didn't help Gillispie save his job. From what others report, he stopped himself by not being able to impress the community and give the media what it wanted in charisma and personality.

Two of the remaining four teams in March Madness are first in scoring offense in their respective conferences: Michigan State (Big Ten) and North Carolina (ACC). Connecticut (Big East) is second, behind Syracuse, though the Huskies are ranked No. 1 in both Pomeroy and Massey ratings. Villanova, in this case of scoring power, goes from its own version of Wildcat to Tame-dog. It is sixth in Big East offense.

How important is being able to pound the boards? Extremely. The most important. Maybe even a stat that could have saved Gillispie. His 'Cats finished second in rebounding margin in league, but eighth in rebounding offense. Yikes. That is highway miles away from what his predecessor's Tigers accomplished. Memphis was No. 1.

What other teams finished first in cleaning their conference offensive glass? Michigan State, UConn, and UNC. Poor 'Nova was sixth. Majority wins though. Pounding and planting in the paint leads to more offensive attempts and more scoring. Maybe the Spartans aren't pretty to watch in a lay person's basketball mind, but they produce 71.8 points per game to lead the league, much to do with their No. 1 rebounding margin.

Who accumulated the same amount of points as Michigan State in the ACC this year? Maryland, which finished ninth in the conference in that stat. That shows why UNC is so extraordinary. Its pace is much quicker than any other team, demonstrated by the Tar Heels 90 points per game output. To know that they also have the fifth overall best assist to turnover ratio in the nation, one that is tops in the ACC, is something to note. No sooner did they demolish Oklahoma than did they realize they could play a much slower pace -- and still get the stops and scoring they needed to put the Big 12 foes in their own tar.

When one talks of balance and talent, its UNC. Right there with Carolina -- in Detroit -- is UConn. The Huskies have it all. The best scoring margin and rebounding offense in the ultra-competitive Big East, 80.2 points per game, and the best shot blocking in the country. It will be quite a challenge for the Spartans to stop the Huskies in their tracks and the Wildcats to stomp the 'Heels. But that is why they play the games...and Final Four hopefuls watch from home, and in some instances, a new one.


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