31 December 2013

Is this a bad shooting team?

Our GAMBLE Reports have highlighted just how bad NU’s offense has become under CCC.  Part of the offense’s struggle is perfectly understandable with the coaching transition.  As the weeks go on and the offense goes further in reverse some blame ought to be placed on CCC.  That this year’s offense is 100 rungs below last year’s decimated team suggests CCC’s offensive coaching is bordering on negligence.

Proponents of the coaching change have been quick to throw CBC and his recruits under the bus in an attempt to insulate CCC from criticism. This agenda to lower expectations and shift blame to CBC -- even with NU players as collateral damage -- comes as no surprise.  Noticeably absent in this shameless tactic are facts.  Carmody Court is here to put meat on that bone.

One common excuse given for CCC’s poor offense is that this “bad shooting team” is unable to take advantage of open shots.  On its face this claim is hard to wrap one’s head around since CBC recruited shooters.  Did NU players suddenly forget to shoot?  To dig into the merits of this assertion we began with a review of the individual player statistics. 

Individual Player Analysis

There are six players on the roster for whom a kenpom comparison can be developed: Crawford, Sobolewski, Cobb, Demps, Olah, and Abrahamson.  To reduce the effect of injuries we used the 2012 season for Crawford’s baseline and 2011 for Cobb. Below is a summary of the changes in a few key offensive statistics from the baseline year to this season.

The cleanest and simplest measurement for comparing shooting is FT%.  Free throws are a constant and independent of offense.  Four of these six players are shooting free throws BETTER this year (all but Demps and Abrahamson).

The next cleanest measurement for shooting comparison is 3P%.  It’s not as clean as a free throw analysis but like free throws the 3P distance is more or less constant and is a shot practiced with regularity.  Four of the six players are shooting BETTER from beyond the arc (Crawford, Sobolewski).

Finally we compared ORtgs.  Although it isn’t directly relevant to the bad shooting team assertion it is on point for NU’s offensive woes.  Once again four are playing better on offense (Crawford, Sobolewski)

Note that three players from 2013 (Hearn, Swopshire, Marcotullio) not included in the above analysis shot about 35% from three.  The two players from 2014 (Taphorn, Lumpkin) not included in the analysis also are shooting about 35%.  A wash in other words.

So an examination of the individual statistics does not support excuse that this is poor shooting team. Maybe looking at the forest would?

Team analysis

As a team NU is shooting 71.3% from the charity stripe which is good for #119 in the land.  Top third doesn't sound so bad to us.  

Last year NU shot 67.9% which was ranked #220.  In addition this year’s 71.3% is better than the 69% shot in two of the NIT years, a hair below the 71.4% shot in 2010 and 1.7% below the 2011 team.  We don’t think folks in their right minds – or even the CBC haters – would claim the NIT teams were bad at shooting.

For 3P% this year’s team is shooting 33%.  This is below average (#195 ranked), a smidge below last year’s 34% clip and well below the NIT years when NU shot between 35.7% and 38.6% as a team.  This team statistic does give some legs to the argument that this team is bad at shooting.   

But…… when one takes out Sobolewski from this year’s statistics the team is shooting 37% from three which is within the NIT years range.  That is not scorching the nets good but is also much better than one would expect from a bad shooting team.

Dave Sobolewski

When we first dove into this analysis we were coming up scratching our heads trying to explain why this offense is so bad.  Individually most players are improved in shooting percentages and rating.  As a team the shooting percentages don’t look so bad either especially when one accounts for Sobolewski’s abysmal 3P%.  And it was with this last thought is when the light went off.  The problem is Sobolewski.  That’s unfair to Sobolewski – more accurately the problem is Sobolewski in CCC’s offense.

Sobolewski’s struggles this year are not a revelation.  Fans and even the press have started to dig into this storyline.  Per kenpom his ORtg is down from a mediocre 97.9 in 2013 to a very poor 81.1.  The dropoff is due to the drop in 3P%, a much higher turnover rate and a lower assists rate. 

Sobolewski has been the biggest loser from the coaching transition.  Why? Because he is being asked to do things he simply can’t do well such as breaking down a defense on the dribble drive and creating for others.  This bears out not only in his increased turnovers but in a much higher free throw rate.  Remarkably his assist rate has dwindled even with these marching orders from CCC.

At this point we think Sobolewski needs to see a sports shrink if NU’s offense is going to recover this year.  One alternative hope is that Demps could pick up some more of the slack, but NU recruiting two PGs for next fall doesn’t sound like Demps is what CCC is looking for in his PG either.

CCC’s Role

Sobolewski’s struggles this year is a cause for concern when it comes to CCC’s ability to lead NU to the NCAAs and beyond.  Not so much because one player is really struggling but rather that CCC hasn’t demonstrated he can amend his offense to fit the personnel.  It’s evident the offense is broken and some of the blame for that is CCC’s inability to take better advantage of what he’s got on hand.  What happens in the future if for whatever reason CCC does not have an active roster that adequately fits his offense???????

A good coach molds his offense to his personnel.  Instead of continuing with this losing proposition of Sobolewski dribble driving his way into turnovers -- and to a lesser extent Cobb -- why not try to run an offense that takes advantage of the players’ strengths?