Statistics are your friend

I have been thinking about statistics a lot over the last week.  I am getting ready for the NCAA basketball season and have been reading a lot from Ken Pomeroy and Basketball Prospectus.  So I have looked at advanced statistics and season projections for the last week to get a good feel for what to expect this season.

I have noticed a couple of things: 1) Many college basketball experts do not like the new use of statistics and 2) and the statistics are not that far away from many experts’ expectations.  The second point is rather surprising given the vehemence of many with the first point.

The new statistics are maddening for some for a two reasons:  1) Math is hard, 2) They make you question if what you are seeing is actually true, and 3) They make you question age old assumption about what makes a good team and/or player.

The first point is one that is due to laziness and not wanting to use a spreadsheet on one of those newfangled computer things.

The second two points are about making people question their own assumptions.  There are two questions the statisticians behind the new numbers ask: “Is what I am seeing with my eyes true?” and “What is a better way to show statistically that what I see is true?”  In answering those questions, you may prove that what you are seeing isn’t true.

If you are a 30 year professional at covering college basketball and some guy with a computer tells you, that a lot of what you believe makes good college basketball isn’t true, you are going to resist it a bit.

I try not to have that problem.  Yes, I have my own assumptions, but I try not to become enslaved by them.  I endeavor to stay open to new data that will either support me or change my mind and change how I see things.

That is what I am going to attempt to do with this project of writing about college basketball this season.  These statistics are a tool.  I plan to use them as such.  The most important thing will be what I see on the court and the statistics will only bolster what I see.  That is the difference between basketball and baseball.  In baseball a players offensive numbers are almost in a pure vacuum.  His numbers will translate from team to team with slight variations due to teammates getting on base in front of him and the parks in which he plays.

Basketball numbers are dependent upon your teammates, your opponent’s style, and game situations.  Your points, rebounds, and assists all depend on who you are on the court with at any given time.  That means it is hard to separate individual numbers from team effectiveness.  That is the beauty of basketball.

It is more like jazz, a free flowing conversation with your mates to an ultimate goal.  Baseball is more like a symphony orchestra where everyone has their individual part to play without worrying about what someone on the other side of the pit is doing.  Both can be beautiful, they just get there in different ways.

Yet I digress hugely.

Anyway, the interesting thing that I have found is that the statistics and the experts’ expectations coming into this season are not that far off from each other.  Part of that is the experience of the experts in knowing what makes a good team.  The other part is some of these experts are using the same statistics and just not telling everyone.

The season and my journey through it begins Friday.


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