Friday, March 15, 2013

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

Old theologian types of which I was probably supposed to learn 

Calvin at St. Thomas

Huddle up everyone, because we’re about to engage in what is colloquially known as “real talk”.

Here goes.

St. Thomas is good. Very good. Very, very good, in fact. Not “oh my gosh a win here would be impossible” good, but certainly “they look like the best team in Division III and it’s not even really close” good.

That’s not to undersell Calvin – they’re playing like a top-five team themselves lately (Massey has them fourth right now) – but the gap between the team that might be second best in the division (let’s say it’s North Central (Ill.)) and St. Thomas appears rather large.

Here are the numbers:

Raw Offensive Efficiency:
Average Sweet Sixteen team: 110.0
Calvin: 111.6
St. Thomas: 124.4

Let me put this gently: St. Thomas’ offense is more than two standard deviations above the mean EVEN WHEN ONLY CONSIDERING SWEET SIXTEEN TEAMS. Wow. They easily look like the best offensive team Calvin has seen this year.

Raw Defensive Efficiency:

  • Average Sweet Sixteen team: 92.8
  • St. Thomas: 91.4
  • Calvin: 85.4

Calvin’s defensive efficiency is second best among remaining teams (an inconsequential 0.003 points per possession behind Randolph-Macon). St. Thomas is still good themselves – above average even for a Sweet Sixteen team – but they don’t appear to be much different than what Calvin has already seen with Rose-Hulman and UW-Stevens Point. A bit worse than the former, and a bit better than the latter.

Both teams play at a normal, though slightly below average, pace. St. Thomas usually gets about 66 possessions, and Calvin’s been playing at about 67 possessions/game pace this year. Average is usually 67-69 possessions so this game will feel neither fast nor slow*.

*St. Thomas appears to play a pressure defense (including what might be iterations of both a full-court and half-court press), so it might feel more frantic than a typical 66 possession game.

Numbers that might include actual things you’ve seen in a box score.

The Tommies are a really good three point shooting team. On the year they’re 200-472 which equals out to an outstanding .424 percentage. The good news is, that for all their success in making three point shots, they don’t shoot them all that often.
  • Calvin average three point attempts per game: 16.0
  • MIAA average three point attempts per game: 16.2
  • St. Thomas average three point attempts per game: 16.3

The strength of the Knights’ defense is in the interior with all their size and length, so the ability to shoot over that could eat into their defensive advantage. If St. Thomas can continually get off good looks from range, it could be a bad night for Calvin.

Rebounding, as always, is going to be key as well. You simply can’t allow a team that shoots this well to receive second (and third) looks when they happen to miss. That’s a big part of what shut down UWSP last weekend. Calvin didn’t give up offensive rebounds to them until the game was pretty much out of reach.
Another interesting dynamic is going to be each team’s interior defense. On two point shots this season, St. Thomas has shot .569. Calvin’s defense has allowed opponents to shoot only .390.

Calvin’s offense has shot .508 on two-pointers, and St. Thomas’ defense has allowed opponents to shoot .501.

It doesn’t necessarily look like it at first glance, but this comes out to a huge advantage for Calvin. The average MIAA team shot .474 on two point attempts this season (let’s use that as a proxy for a D3-wide average), so we see that St. Thomas doesn’t look very good at defending the two point shot. The strength of their defense appears to rest on rebounding and forcing turnovers, so if Calvin can take care of the ball, they may be able to feast on the inside with guys like Tyler Kruis and Tom Snikkers.

Just for fun, Calvin’s offensive numbers vs. St. Thomas’ defensive numbers with respect to league average on the two-point shot suggest an expected two-point shooting percentage for Calvin in this game of .561.
St. Thomas’ offense versus Calvin’s defense would be expected to shoot .511 on two-point shots.

In conclusion

We could probably delve into a myriad of other numbers or scenarios, but we’re ultimately going to have to see what transpires on the floor.

The good news: Get past St. Thomas and you won’t see an opponent this tough again the rest of the tournament. Get past St. Thomas and you’re also probably the favorite to win it all.

My raw efficiency number suggest something like a 72-65 St. Thomas victory, and give Calvin a 37% chance to win.

The Massey ratings predict a 71-63 St. Thomas victory, giving Calvin a 22% chance to win.
Those wouldn’t be bad results, but there is reason to hope for better. This is a game Calvin can win – which would have been incredible to think about a year ago, that they could be on the road against the #1 team and have a real shot – but they really, truly can win.

They’ve been playing fantastic ball for several weeks now. St. Thomas better be as scared about Calvin as I am about them because if, they’re not, they’re looking past a really darn good Calvin team.

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