28 October 2011

Coming full circle on NU's 2010-11 efficiency

Carmody Courters – we thank you for your kind words about our article on NU’s 2010-11 defense.  We hear you, and we are here for you.  First things first – yes our trend line analysis of the defense was statistically significant.  The F test exceeded the critical level, and the t statistic for the slope was 1.75 -- significant at a 90% confidence level.  Note that if we were to drop the games against the Evil Bo Ryaners from the analysis (Ha! Don't we wish!) then the fit shoots through the roof and significant with over 95% confidence.  

Second, you asked for it and below is a similar analysis of NU’s 2011-12 offensive efficiency.  The chart below shows NU’s game-by-game offensive PPP performance adjusted for differences in the quality of the opponent’s defense.  Now, before all you readers get all hot and bothered again about it, let’s say up front that the trend line is NOT statistically significant.  Even if it were significant the very flat positive slope wouldn’t exactly tell a compelling story.  

 Still there are some interesting nuggets that have been dug up by our completing the circle of analysis on NU’s 2010-11 efficiency.  First, the randomly moving solid line is what one would expect to see from an offense that is neither improving nor regressing.  Second, save for an embarrassing offensive performance in Nittanyville the offense had equal ranges for under- and over- performance.  

In what may come as a surprise to folks NU outperformed on offense in 12 B1G games and underperformed in 8 B1G games.  How could this be?  After all NU was ranked by kenpom as the 18th best offense in all the land and third best offense in the B1G.

The reason for the rather lackluster offensive performance is that NU’s kenpom statistics were largely based on NU’s offense feeding on non-conference cream puffs.  If you look at just the B1G games NU’s offense only ranked 7th in efficiency.  In short, NU’s offense was not the juggernaut that some may have falsely believed.  

Our last tidbit is how starkly this chart sheds light on NU’s woes against the Nit Wits.  While the Fightin’ Ed DeChellises performed better than expected against NU’s defense last year, the true reason for PSU’s domination of NU was its solving the riddle of NU’s offense.  NU underperformed on offense by an eye popping 0.39 PPP in State College and managed to narrow that underperformance slightly in the rematch at the Welsh to the tune of a 0.19 PPP offensive underperformance.  These two blights on the chart are encircled in Nittany Blue (or symbolic of the bruises that PSU defenders left on our blocked cutters?).  Thankfully NU no longer needs to worry about Ed DeChellis and his mastery of Coach Carmody's schemes.  The curse will be lifted this year!

For 2011-12 the hope on offense is that some combination of Marco, Cobb, and one of the frosh guards can step into Juice’s shoes and facilitate the offense and knock down some important shots from deep and runners in the lane.  Time will tell.  Certainly a healthy Shurna and Cobb would help greatly in filling in the gaping hole left by Juice’s departure. 

27 October 2011

Hope for NCAAs-worthy defense in 2011-12?

For a couple of years now close observers of Northwestern basketball have noted that defensive woes have held this team back from that elusive first NCAAs bid.  Despite lip service from Coach Carmody to a newly found focus on defense at the onset of the 2010-11 campaign there wasn’t much visible improvement on that front last year.  Or was there?

On the surface all one needs to do is look at NU’s statistics to understand why folks have their knickers in a twist over the defense.  NU’s defensive efficiency in conference -- the best benchmark for comparing NU to its peers -- was tied for last in the Big Ten with Indiana.  That leads many to the logical if simplistic conclusion that it’s more of the same when it comes to NU’s defensive woes.

However, when you dig more deeply there are glimmers of hope for improved defensive performance during this year’s campaign.  The chart below analyzes NU’s 2010-11 B1G and NIT results from a defensive efficiency perspective. The data plotted show NU’s game-by-game point per possession (PPP) defensive performances adjusted for differences in the competition’s offense.  This adjustment is important and necessary if one is to truly evaluate NU’s defensive performance as it allows for comparison across games.
To explain how we’ve adjusted the PPP data, it’s easiest to use NU’s first B1G game at Purdue to illustrate the calculations.  In that game NU had a defensive PPP of 1.26.  That means for every Purdue possession, the Boilermakers scored on average 1.26 points.  Purdue had an average offense PPP of 1.12 during the 2010-11 B1G campaign.  Thus, NU’s defensive PPP in the game at Purdue was 0.14 PPP worse than what Purdue’s average conference opponent yielded to the Boilers (i.e, the difference between 1.12 and 1.26).  The data point for this game on the chart is -0.14 (we use the more intuitive negative value for the difference since NU’s defense was worse than the average B1G defense in this game). Clear as mud? 

The solid line plots NU’s defensive PPP performance over the B1G and NIT games.  Simply put, anytime the line crosses above the 0.0 “Mendoza” line, then NU’s defense fared comparatively well.  Anytime the line is below 0.0, then NU’s defense fared comparatively poorly. Most of the data points on the chart are below 0.0 which comes as no surprise.  NU’s defense last season was subpar no matter how you slice and dice it.  In only 5 of 20 conference games did NU’s defense perform relatively well (@MSU, Michigan, Minnesota during the regular season, and in both tournament games).  Furthermore, NU’s peak performance was in the final regular season game against Minnesota in which NU only held the Gophers 0.1 points below their normal offensive efficiency.  In contrast, NU’s worst defensive performance came on “Chicago-Wisconsin Showdown Weekend" when the Badgers scored 0.37 points more per possession than average for them.  That, friends, is one U-G-L-Y statistic.

However this story is not all doom and gloom as hinted in our intro to this article.  The dotted line shows the trend line in NU’s defensive performance.  Notice that the line is decisively positive and even reached the 0.0 line once NU’s final NIT game loss at the Wazzu’s was factored into the analysis. 

This trend, friends, gives us hope that the defense was in fact improving during 2010-11.  Frankly we are not surprised by this trend as it matches our instinctive reaction to NU’s defensive performances during the latter part of the season.  Perhaps this was the case of NU priming the defense pump starting in the preseason practices, and the defensive juices finally started flowing in March.  Certainly the statistics support this hypothesis.

Another factor to consider when projecting this year’s defensive performance is the fact that NU’s lineup will be without NU’s diminutive MVP, Juice Thompson.  We love Juice, and we hate to throw him under the bus, but it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that he was a defensive liability given his height disadvantage.  Anyone who does not believe this to be the case will have to explain to us a more logical explanation for why Carmody would default to a gambling 1-3-1 defense which compromised defensive integrity in the corners as well as rebounding if it weren’t to minimize Juice’s defensive liability.  (you can save your breath Carmody detractors, it is not more logical to posit that Carmody has no clue about coaching defense or defensive strategy -- while Carmody is an offensive minded coach he is no fool and understands that defense is half of the game as well).  Let’s face it – the B1G was a guard dominated league last year, and Juice would likely have been eaten alive in man defense by his taller and offensively gifted defensive assignment.

One last tidbit -- Carmody does need to learn how defend the swing offense.  Those defensive performances against Wisconsin (circled in Wisconsin Red -- or is it blood red?) leave MUCH to be desired.  Hopefully Coach Hill will have some input on this front.

16 October 2011

It's that time of the year!

2011-12 Wildcat basketball is in the air. None too soon, we say, as the football team's season has quickly gone down the drain, and most NU fanatics are in desperate need to latch onto something not so depressing. On a related note, we wonder when LTP is going to post a referendum poll on Fitz? He wasn't too shy about putting Carmody's neck out there. It would seem to us appropriate to make the same distasteful poll on Fitz seeing that the football program has regressed under Fitz whereas the basketball program under Carmody is at all time modern era heights.

Enough about the football train wreck -- let's move on to cheerier topics -- NUs impending popping of its NCAAs cherry. The scuttlebutt is that Marco is much improved -- his exploits on the England national team this summer actually provides some basis for this wishful thinking. The frosh guards, per scout.com early practice report, are coming along nicely. We are skeptical but hope for one to emerge during non-conf season as grasping the Carmody intricacies. Luka is much improved, which smacks of purple koolaid, but we are inclined to drink that koolaid as he played pretty well at the very end of last season and he is a fifth year senior. [thanks for the input Carmody Courters but our point still stands -- it was late and our copy editor was distracted by Da Bears running roughshod over the vikes]

Two question marks are JerShon and Drew. These two are next tier type recruits for NU with their athleticism and bball IQ. Cobb was slowed by injury last year, and we love his upside. To be frank, we expected more from Crawford last year. Will he break out of his soph slump and show improved decision making and a better ball handle? If those two step up their games, and Shurna remains healthy, then there is no doubt NU breaks out the dancing shoes in March.

Lastly, the Welsh court got a makeover with fan input. We opted to decline participation as a matter of principle since none of the options had "Carmody court" emblazoned into the hardwood. For shame! Just as well that we didn't add our two cents because the AD went with an audible and chose none of the above for it's enwhitened and purple stained court. So long as the court looks purple on TV then we begrudgingly nod our heads in approval for this incomplete floor space.