Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On Tempo, Reality, and On To The Next One

This will be a slightly scattered post, so for that I apologize, but I figured I wanted to write something rather than nothing, so this qualifies.

Calvin did something that no one predicted they’d do which was beat Rose-Hulman by 20 points. On the road. In the NCAA Tournament.

This was billed as a defensive battle. According to Massey, Rose-Hulman was the #1 defense in the country and Calvin was #12. The predicted score was something in the 50’s for both teams. Rose-Hulman hit their mark by scoring 52 points, but Calvin exploded for 72.

72 isn’t usually an “explosion”, but this was against THE NUMBER ONE DEFENSE IN THE COUNTRY. Except, not realy.

The Engineers were the top team in terms of points allowed per game, but that doesn’t necessarily qualify them as the best defense. You see, RHIT typically plays at a slower than average pace and therefore gives the opponent fewer opportunities to score. They averaged about 58 possessions per game in the regular season compared to the typical average of about 68. Considering an average team maybe scores a point per possession, that’s 10 points per game of “defensive quality” that’s really just a result of them playing slower games. That still leaves them with a very good defense, but probably not #1, and probably no better than Calvin’s.

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

Rose-Hulman was dubbed the better defensive team, but Calvin actually had better numbers on a per-possession basis. Calvin’s defensive efficiency rating (points allowed per 100 defensive possessions) was 85.2 heading into the game and Rose-Hulman’s was 86.6. When it came to actually stopping the opponent on any given possession, the two were virtually identical. (It should also be noted that these two numbers are very, very good).

In order to do a more rigorous analysis, one would need to consider the strength of each team’s opponents, but both played Top-100 (ish) schedules (Calvin’s is #68 and RHIT’s #101 according to Massey), so it’s probably pretty close. If anything it would under-value Calvin relative to Rose-Hulman.

This is an example of why per-possession metrics (otherwise known as tempo-free metrics) give us a more accurate picture of team quality than per-game metrics.


Calvin is a good offensive team. Not spectacular when it comes to NCAA Tournament teams, but probably still at least average for a Round-of-32 team. So how then did they score 72 points against the not-#1-but-still-very-good Rose-Hulman defense?

They probably got a bit lucky.

Calvin doesn’t typically shoot at eye-popping percentages – they’re at .471 for the season – but on Saturday night they shot 82% in the second half to run away with it (61% for the game). It’s true that they got a few easy buckets in transition as they broke RHIT’s press a few times, but 82% is ridiculous and won’t happen again. I don’t mean to rain on the parade at all, but you’re not going to see Tom Snikkers, Tyler Kruis, Mickey DeVries, and Dan Stout combine to go 10-11 on jump shots very often. They all can knock down those shots, but they can’t knock down those shots at a 90%+ clip.

A little bit of positive randodm variation never hurt anybody (well, except for Rose-Hulman in this case), but if Calvin shot a more “normal” percentage then they might have 10-14 of those points off the board. That would have made the game a little bit more interesting at the end.

This isn't to devalue what Calvin did one bit -- I think they're the better team between the two, even on the road -- but if they were to re-play the game I'd pick the Knights by about five, not twenty.

On To The Next One

It's really unfortunate that Calvin is going to have to hit the road for this one rather than meeting UW-Stevens Point at a neutral site or at home. Traveling by bus nearly seven hours is rarely a recipe for success -- especially against a team like Stevens Point -- but the Pointers can be beaten.

UWSP has been without one of their better players, Tyler Tillema, for the second half of the season. That has hurt them quite a bit, but they were still strong enough to claim the regular season WIAC title. And teh WIAC champion is usually one of the best three or four teams in the country. I'm not sure the Pointers are playing quite at that level right now, but they sure are good and could beat anyone in the country on any given night.

Like Rose-Hulman, they play at a little big slower pace (though not as slow as the Engineers), but they (i.e. UW-Stevens Point) are more of an offensive team than a defensive one. Their defense is likely better than their raw numbers suggest -- given the fact that they play in arguably the best league in Division III -- as is probably their offense.

Pace: 61 possessions per game
Offensive efficiency rating: 113.2
Defensive efficiency rating: 96.2
Massey strength of schedule: #2

Pace: 67 possessions per game
Offensive efficiency rating: 111.5
Defensive efficiency rating: 85.3
Massey strength of schedule: #68

Calvin has the edge from a raw-numbers standpoint, but we would really want to adjust Stevens Point's numbers up to account for their schedule.

These raw numbers -- including for a simple home court advantage multiplier in favor of the Pointers -- suggest a three-point Calvin win. It would take something like a five point adjustment (in any combination of OEff or DEff) in favor of Stevens Point for the numbers to predict an even score. I have no idea what a reasonable strength of schedule factor should be, but let's just say this game looks like it should be quite close.

Massey is predicting a five point Calvin loss, for whatever that's worth.

The good news is that Calvin has been playing just about their best basketball of the season the last two weeks. They needed to win the MIAA Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament so they've been in win-or-go-home mode for three games. These are their numbers:

OEff     DEff Margin
Adrian 121.9   71.5 50.4
Hope 110.9   82.1 28.8
Rose-Hulman 121.7   87.9 33.8

As a simple rule-of-thumb, efficiency margins of 28.0 and above mean "there's no way this team could beat you". That's not really true, of course, in a one-game setting but if a team could put an efficiency margin of 28 or better for a season, they'd be darn near undefeated.

As you can see, Calvin has treated Adrian, Hope, and Rose-Hulman* -- all teams who have spent time in the Top 25 this year -- as a bunch of ragamuffin cupcakes.

*Caveats that Adrian wasn't the same team on March 1 that they were on January 1 and that Hope was more or less a Preseason Top-25 team.

We shouldn't expect Stevens Point to go down that easily, but whatever sort of thing Calvin has found recently, let's keep going with that.

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