Advanced Stats and an ACC Preview

I have often admired the mystical way of Pythagoras, and the secret magic of numbers.

-Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici

I love football, especially college football.  There are very few things in American life like a fall Saturday afternoon.  However, my first love is about to tip off next week and that is college basketball.

That means my days over the next week or two will be filled with phrases like “Pythagorean calculation,” “points per possession,” “offensive efficiency,” and “tempo-free basketball.”

Yes, I am a user of advanced statistics in college basketball.

That brings up two points: 1) My predictions for the upcoming ACC season and 2) how to use these stats.

All of the people who doubt the use of advanced statistics to help evaluate basketball usually make the same argument:  that these stats only tell us the same things our eyes see and they cannot give the sports they discuss any context.

First off, stats are only a tool used in evaluation.  Meaning, stats should only be used to explain what your eyes see or show you things your eyes may miss.  Second, no stats can provide you with context, which is why they are bad measurements for defensive effectiveness of individual players.  They do a better job of measuring the defensive strength of teams, but fail individuals.

The way a lot of jocks attack advanced stats and their practitioners is to go all school yard and call them geeks, nerds, etc.  That is code for, “I know what I’m talking about because I played and all you do is sit in your parents basement in front of a computer.”  Yes, you actually do need to watch the games and you do need to see how a player actual plays to get an effective evaluation.

However, advanced stats can tell you if a player is as effective offensively as his raw number indicate.  In other words, is what you see actually happening and is it a good thing.  One thing advanced stats dislike are “volume scorers” because they put a premium on effectiveness, which is just another way of saying efficiency.  These are players who put up lots of shots to get their points, which is not always good for the team.

Is there over-reliance on stats to tell you everything by some statisticians?  Yes.  Of course there is.  The concept of player efficiency rating (PER) is one that some people rely too much on in basketball.  PER is an attempt to tell you how effective an offensive player is.  This is a stat that has to be used within the context of a team, in my opinion.

Basketball is a game where individual’s true effectiveness can only be measured with in the concept of the team.  This is where basketball offensive statistics differ from baseball (where most advanced stats come from).  Only by calculating a players PER within the concept of a unit or in concert with other players can you really get a gauge on how effective he is.

Anyway, my ACC predictions.  The top three teams will finish in some order of NC State, Duke, and UNC.  However, each of these teams have enough questions and flaws that could see them finish 4th or lower.  NC State is a team that went into the ACC Tournament last year on the bubble.  While they return most of last year’s team (where there should be improvement) they have yet to perform with the pressure of expectations.  By the end of the season, I think they will handle the pressure just fine and finish at or very near the top spot.

Duke needs to find some type of consistent point guard play.  The system Duke runs is a predicated on having a point guard who knows how to get his teammates involved offensively and who puts defensive pressure on the opponents point guard.  They got neither last year.  If that improves this year, they should have enough wing talent to finish ranked in the top ten.

You may have heard that UNC lost a lot of players to the NBA draft.  There have been a few stories written about that.  The ultimate success of this season is probably going to come down to perimeter shooting and if their freshman point guard is ready to lead.  If they get consistent 3-point shooting and good contributions from someone other than James Michael McAdoo in the post, they should have a good season.

Other than Florida State probably making the NCAA tournament and Wake Forest bottom feeding, the rest of the ACC is a jumble.  Any order of finish involving the other seven teams would not shock me.

Anyway, I will check in throughout the season with my thoughts and rudimentary analysis, mostly just to keep myself entertained.

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