Friday Five: Declining defense, offensive options, and lineup data!

Jan 11, 2022; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach T. J. Otzelberger talks with guard Tyrese Hunter (11) during the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Declining defense?

There has been a lot of talk recently about the defense slipping, and while I think there is some truth to that, I think that for the most part, they have played well enough to win games with a more reliable offense.

The fact of the matter is that through the first 12 games Iowa State opponents were shooting 24 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Depending on how much of an impact you think defenses have on jump shooting will probably depend on how much you believe the Cyclone defense is regressing to the mean on 3-point defense.

Below is a chart of every Iowa State game in order from left to right where the blue bar shows made 3-pointers by the opponent and the orange bars show the expected makes based on that team’s season-long 3-point percentage.

You get into some small sample size issues, but you can see since the Oklahoma game that more often than not opponents have made a larger number of 3-pointers than their percentage would suggest. But, that is a pretty broad brush. In reality, you need to dig down to who is taking the shots and what kind of shots they are. For this exercise, I at least was able to do the first part for the two most recent games.

Based on the attempts by Texas and who took the shots with their individual season-long percentage they were expected to make 7.7 3-pointers and they actually made nine. For West Virginia, they were expected to make 6.2 but actually made ten. I would argue that the Texas result is really nothing to complain about but the shooting from West Virginia was a bit unlucky. Especially with so many early shots falling for the Mountaineers to build an early double-digit lead and set the tone for the game.

All told from observation, I think the guys are not quite as sharp or quick on defense in their rotations and urgency. Does that allow teams to shoot better from the perimeter and how much? I would also say that while they are still creating turnovers at a high rate it just seems like a disproportionate number of them are dead ball turnovers.

Points off Turnovers

This will be quick and just a general comment, but it drives me crazy when we talk about points off turnovers in basketball (or really, football too). Iowa State has gotten hammered in this category recently but I’m not interested in points scored from turnovers that result in a dead ball. Give me the points off live ball turnovers—preferably in transition—and then we can talk.

Note: It may still be ugly for the Cyclones.

The offense is not awesome

This is the talking point and really has been the talking point for most of the season. Can the offense do enough to find wins while the strength lies at the defensive end? More often than not this season they have succeeded but there comes a time when you just have to put the ball in the hole.

Coaches can scheme open shots but they cannot scheme the ball into the hole, and when the ball does not go into the hole it becomes increasingly difficult to scheme those open shots.

I wrote a bit last week about the differences in the horns sets and motion offense and getting the defense shifting to attack but I really don’t think it is so much a scheme problem as much as it is a general lack of offensive firepower.

What else can be done?

It can be risky for the amount of effort that is expended on the defensive end but I would like to see them try to run more. Just as Tyrese Hunter is really the only guy that can create in the half-court (a tall task for a young guy) he’s also the best bet to push in the open court and stress the defense. The problem is you run into the wheelhouse of Matt Campbell and do not play complimentary styles when those transition opportunities are not successful.

But so far this season per, the Cyclones are 317th in percentage of initial field goal attempts coming in transition and 339th in attempt rate within ten seconds from a defensive rebound. The Cyclones are good enough of a rebounding team and deficient enough on offense that it may make sense to risk some defensive rebounding and quick shots to get some easier looks against a scrambled defense.

It is worth noting that Iowa State does get the 70th most shots up in terms of rate off of steals within ten seconds off of steals but that likely has more to do with the volume of steals than anything else.

Lineup Data

I had about a decade-long quest that sort of ended a few years ago when I was finally able to procure some semblance of lineup data. It seemed like a silver bullet to so many of my basketball questions but what I learned the most was that it tended to create more questions than answers and so much of that is due to the surprisingly low sample size for five-man lineups.

Enter which surfaced this year (at least to me) that allows you to see lineup ratings for two, three, four, or five-man combinations of players. It is extremely interesting but I think it is also more difficult to consume than it appears just by the nature of the information and that low sample size.

First off, any individual metric that prescribes a defensive rating for a player is highly skeptical to me. There are just so many ways that a player impacts everything on defense that there is no way to account for with variable data. Or, I think it is really hard to meld usage and offensive efficiency down into a singular number and I’m not yet sure how that comes through in his system. That and other reasons are why when I look at this stuff I keep my opinions more on the soft side.

That said, I do wonder if there aren’t reasonable ways to review the data though and I ventured down a couple of those paths this week.

Instead of looking at specific five-man lineups, I created three separate lineup types where the 4 man is either Tristan Enaruna or Aljaz Kunc and the 5 man is either George Conditt or Robert Jones. Assuming those labels there are three-guard lineups with two 4s or a 4 and a 5 (Jones and Conditt have yet to be on the floor together, which makes sense) or you can have a four-guard lineup with just a 4 or just a 5.

How do the performances look by those lineup types:

Based on the adjusted margin column (offensive and defensive efficiency margin that is then adjusted for the strength of competition under the “Avg Opp BPR” header) the most effective lineup has been four guards with either Kunc or Enaruna on the court, with a decent number of possessions. Though it came against the lightest schedule of these samples which leads me to believe the bulk of the results is due to lineups against non-high major opponents.

My next curiosity hinged from that first exercise in wondering how the 4s and 5s performed with each other when the lineup had two big guys on the court.

Conditt and Kunc came out on top while accounting for about 20 percent of the possessions while Conditt and Enaruna were next with about 35 percent of possessions. For what it’s worth, that matches my intuition that the ceiling is highest when Conditt is playing well.

When you comb through the data one thing you find is that Robert Jones is not highly rated, which I can understand in a variety of ways on the offensive end. But he has had some flashes and I do think he can bring some worthwhile things to the table. Even though he has struggled to finish around the rim and is not a good free-throw shooter.

Twister Sisters and Wrestling!

There is a gigantic wrestling meet in Cedar Falls tonight as the #5 Cyclones travel to square off with #18 UNI. I don’t know how you can’t get jazzed up about UNI’s guys threatening to kick some a** or more especially our own Kevin Dresser saying he’s going Panther hunting. The biggest disappointment is that it won’t be widely available to be viewed.

The Cyclone women head to Fort Worth on Saturday to try and get to 10-2 in the conference and at least maintain a tie at the top of the standings with Oklahoma but then have a big three-game stretch to follow with a trip to Austin, a home date with the Sooners, and a road game with Kansas. Those games and the home finale with Baylor will go a long way to determining their dreams of a Big 12 Championship.