Welcome to another edition of my basketball blabberings where I incoherently stumble through a variety of small topics that have been bouncing around in my head for the past few days. None of these things are really worthy of a few hundred words on their own, so I’ll keep them short and sweet.
McKay and free throws
This hasn’t exactly been a secret since Jameel McKay made eight out of nine attempts against West Virginia three games ago, but I noticed the subtle improvements a couple of weeks ago and started charting his season long free throw percentage and how it was increasing game by game.
He hit a bit of a lull around the Texas Tech game in Ames so I sat on it until it spiked again. Well, it spiked. Below has his game by game free throw percentage (the blue bars), his season long free throw percentage at each game, and the number of attempts he had in each game as the text value at the bottom.
In four of his last eight games where he’s shot at least one free throw, McKay has made at least 70 percent of his attempts and five times he’s made at least 60 percent. That improvement has resulted with him being just shy of a 60 percent free throw shooter right now. That isn’t the most impressive number from the stripe but it’s creeping toward the realm of being just steady enough. Plus, in his last five games he’s making 69 percent of attempts and that includes a zero-for-four outing at Oklahoma.
Offensive Rating vs Usage
Offensive rating calculations get pretty messy and complex but it basically gets to the heart of how efficiently a player is able to score, how many buckets they create for teammates, and it factors in turnovers as well. An offensive rating north of 100 is pretty solid to calibrate your frame of reference.
The caveat is the more a player is used by a team, the more difficult it is to keep the rating up so high. Generally, it is only acceptable to compare offensive ratings for players that have usage rates in a similar range.
Anyway, I wanted to visually plot Iowa State players and their offensive ratings as compared to their usage rates. I then threw in some other notable players in the Big 12 for the sake of comparison (all in red font).
Up and to the right is preferred but I’m sure you’ll notice now must of the guys fall somewhere on a trend line from top left to bottom right. These numbers are derived from conference games only. The offensive rating value is on the vertical axis and the usage rate is on the horizontal axis.
Thanks to our buddy Brent Blum, there has been a fair amount of discussion around the idea that in the last 11 years, 43 of the 44 Final Four teams have had been at least in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defense.
First off, I do think there is a bit of noise in the data because these numbers are taken at the end of the Tournament instead of prior to the start of it. That gives the Final Four teams at least four extra games to improve those regular season numbers while winning and possibly inflating the numbers artificially.
That being the case, I wanted to try and project how close Iowa State is to getting in to the top 50. At the moment I write this, the Cyclones are sitting at number 90. The math gets a little fuzzy because on KenPom.com, the scoring numbers are adjusted for competition and the location of the game that I’m not exactly privy to. But, we can get a rough idea at how the Cyclones would need to perform over the next four games (yes, omitting the conference tournament for ease).
Iowa State’s adjusted defense is currently allowing 0.976 points per possession on KenPom.com and the number 50 team in the country is currently at 0.951 points per possession.
Using Pomeroy’s projected possessions for the last four games, the Cyclones would have to give up an average of just 54 points per game to crack the top 50. Of course, that is a calculation in a vacuum and ignores the fact that the top 50 could well be a moving target.
Either way, a climbing into the top 50 seems unlikely. Although that doesn’t exactly preclude them to making a tourney run anyway. There have been evident improvements all over the defensive end of the court but one area that fans have picked up on is the lack of double teams to stay covered on shooters.
While I agree with that thought, I actually think there have been fewer double teams primarily because there have been fewer post touches for opponent post men in the last three games. McKay is denying hard and moving around to confuse the entry passer and keep his man shifting to find position.
If they don’t get a touch in the post you don’t have to send a double team.
I noticed last week when I ran numbers for all of the Big 12 teams in home versus road games that the West Virginia foul rates were as absurd as expected. But the funny thing to me was the foul rate for their opponents.
When coaches complain to officials about uneven foul counts, the refs often will tell the coach to have his team stop fouling. I agree with that completely, but the other side of the coin is refs tend to call fouls pretty well equal in games. Situational stuff to end games can throw things off but the tendency is for foul totals to be close to the same.
There are a variety of factors coming into play here so this is far from hard evidence, but I found exactly what I expected.
When all Big 12 teams except for West Virginia play a conference game against an opponent other than West Virginia they commit an average of 17.64 fouls per 40 minutes. But, when those same teams have played West Virginia they have been whistled for an average of 22.50 fouls per 40 minutes. Meanwhile, West Virginia has averaged 25.42 fouls per 40 minutes in league play.
So, do teams really foul more when they play West Virginia? Possibly, but I tend to think it’s more of a psychological deal with officials calling more against both teams than usual. But the last twist in this is that, in my opinion, West Virginia could easily be called for six to eight more per game because of the style they implement and just my observations in general.