Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Pace of a Champion

About halfway done with Basketball on Paper and enjoying myself thoroughly (more on that in a later post). For my contribution to this week, I will focus on one of the most basic concepts in basketball statistical analysis: pace. It should be easy to understand why the most common statistics in basketball (points/assists/rebounds per game) are commonly poor indicators of true performance. Some teams rack up high numbers by running the floor and taking lots of shots (see Grinnell College for an extreme case of this) while others slow the game down and try to hold their opponents under 50. To account for these differences, one must calculate pace, or simply the amount of possessions each team has in a game.

If you're not into counting, a post-game approximation can be made using the formula

Pace=FGA-OR+TO+0.475xFTA (Thanks to Ken Pomeroy for the equation)

Using Pomeroy's statistics, we can break down the last four national champions in terms of the speed of their game and the efficiency with which they scored.

2007- Florida- 67.1 possessions/40 minutes (154th)
2006- Florida- 68.3 possessions/40 minutes (117th)
2005- North Carolina- 75.7 possessions/40 minutes (3rd)
2004- Connecticut- 69.7 possessions/40 minutes (99th)

Unfortunately, Pomeroy's database only runs through the last four years. Still, we can see that there is little correlation between a team's pace and postseason success. Both Florida teams were in the middle of Division 1 in terms of possessions per game. Of course, that is partially due to returning the top 7 players from '06 to '07. Billy Donovan saw no reason to speed up or slow down the tempo after a national championship year (the slight drop is inconsequential). North Carolina liked to run the ball in 2005, which suited their game. Players like Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants needed to get into the open court to be effective. Roy Williams merely played to their strengths.

If simple pace is not an indicator of success, let's take a look at offensive and defensive efficiency (the amount of points scored per 100 possessions on offense or allowed on defense).

2007- Florida- 118.9/93.0 (1st/14th)
2006- Florida- 114.3/92.4 (2nd/19th)
2005- North Carolina- 116.8/93.2 (3rd/19th)
2004- Connecticut- 112.9/91.6 (10th/7th)

The last three national championship teams have displayed tremendous efficiency on offense, with very good efforts on the defensive end. Though the Tarheels scored more than last year's version of the Gators, Florida was scored more and allowed fewer points per possession than the '05 national champs. Jim Calhoun's squad in 2004 displayed the most balanced rankings, placing top 10 in both categories, while the last three years have produced champions that have been dominant on the offensive end.

If the trend of offensively-minded champions continues, the winner could come from the Big East. Four of the top 10 teams in offensive efficiency (West Virginia, Marquette, Notre Dame, and Georgetown) come from the sixteen team league. The Mountaineers surprisingly look the best so far (1st in offense, 3rd in defense) while Kansas from the Big XII ranks 4th in both categories.

This post, part of a weekly series from BlackandGreen on, can be found at the weekly blog here.

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