20 January 2011

On Luka Mirkovic

As the season wears on it is becoming increasingly apparent that the play of favorite Northwestern fan punching bag Luka Mirkovic is as good a barometer for this team as any. A review of the +/- stats from within conference play bare this out.

In the first three games of the Big Ten schedule (at Purdue, Michigan State, at Illinois) Luka had +/-'s of -19, -15, and -16 respectively. If we take these stats in isolation then it is clear that Luka struggled against these nationally ranked foes.

Luka's performance in those games looks even worse when one considers how NU fared with Luka on the bench. The Roland Rating ("RR"), computed as on court +/- less off court +/-, provides such insight. In those same three games Luka's RR was -25, -27, and -7.

For the math-challenged Carmody Courters, if a player's RR is less than the +/- then Northwestern gained ground on its opponent while that player sat on the bench. This is what happened with Luka in the games at Purdue and against Michigan State at the Welsh. The reverse is true in the game at Illinois, but we don't think it is wise to glean much from the Illinois game due to the blowout nature of that game. That said, NU was -16 during Luka's 22 minutes and -7 during Davide Curletti's 18 minutes (which were more heavily weighted during that sloppy second half) which is not exactly a resume building statistic for Luka.

With the easing of the schedule over the past four games (Indiana, at Iowa, at Michigan State, Michigan) Luka's performance has been markedly better. Luka had a +10, +3, +3, and +21 in those games, respectively. His corresponding RR statistics were +8, -13, +10, and +28. That is, NU was about equally well off in the Indiana game whether or not Luka was on the floor and was better off when Luka was sitting at Iowa. As was the case with the Illinois game we don't put much weight on the Iowa game statistics as that game was a blowout starting about midway through the first half.

To us what really jumps out is Luka's performance in NU's most recent two games at Michigan State and against Michigan at the Welsh. If you consider Luka's performances in both Michigan State games his +/- improved from a -15 to a +3, and this improvement was made by a typically under performing "Road Luka" over the comparatively better "Home Luka." Furthermore as mentioned above Luka's RR in the first game against Sparty was poor, but his RR flipped in the rematch with NU faring much better with Luka on the court.

To follow-up his solid performance in E Lansing, Luka had an outstanding game against Michigan at the Welsh. It probably would irk some NU fans and opponents, but it would be appropriate for Luka to do his vintage chest thumping over his +/- of +21 and an RR of +28 against Michigan.

In sum the trend is for a markedly improved Luka within the conference over the last four games. Similarly NU's performance in those games has also been markedly improved. Certainly some of that has to do with the quality of the opponent. However the +/- and RR statistics suggest that Luka has started to turn a corner. Let's hope this trend continues since NU's performance are pretty closely correlated to Luka's performance.

Hat tip to shatsheet.com which is our source for the +/- and RR statistics in the above analysis.