Marching to Vegas: Analyzing Arizona State’s Turnaround

Posted by AMurawa on January 11th, 2013

From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.

Back to our regularly scheduled M2V. Last week’s peek into the Sun Devils and their success to date was interrupted by the Monitor Mishap in McKale. That subject has run its course and so we find ourselves back to examining how a 10-win team 10 months ago finds itself well beyond that mark with more than half of the 2012-13 season remaining.

Herb Sendek Has The Sun Devils Winning Again (Photo credit: US Presswire).

Herb Sendek Has The Sun Devils Winning Again (Photo credit: US Presswire).

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about ASU is the blondes on Mill Avenue the speed at which they play. A byproduct of Herb Sendek’s system and his desire to minimize possessions and win the ball game on the defensive end, they’re slow. For his career, Sendek teams have averaged an adjusted tempo (AdjT) of 63.5 (stats back to 2003). That’s to say these squads (split between six-plus years at ASU and four at NC State) average about 64 possessions a game. For additional context, that generally ranks amongst the 150 “slower” teams in the country; the bottom half of college basketball. This, however, does not necessarily dictate success or failure. By no means at all. The past four NCAA champions have had AdjT of 66.2, 65.4, 65.5, and 73.9. No, AdjT in and of itself is a far cry from defining whether a team is successful, but knowing what Sendek’s teams have previously done in this category and knowing he made it well-known they were going to turn up the tempo, it’s certainly worth examining their newfound success. Thus, comparing Sendek’s historical tempo (63.5) to his team’s current and declared increased tempo (66.5), we find that he’s upped that pace by three possessions per game. I’ll go ahead and assume that Arizona State is not winning more games by garnering three additional possessions a game. That’s a max of twelve points if you’re Larry Johnsoning it. Unlikely.

But what are they doing with those three additional shot clocks? Are they more effective? A peek at their effective field goal percentage tells us that the Devils have only upped that statistic (defined loosely as points per attempt, very loosely) by less than one percentage point. That’s statistically irrelevant and the Devils haven’t necessarily changed strategies. They’re actually shooting fewer three-pointers this year, a significant factor when evaluating the value of a given shot. As we glance down the line of all other offensive statistics, we only find that the Devils are right about the same team. So, for all the talk of increased tempo, what’s changed?

As it were, the Devils have managed to play better defense! Their best defense, in fact, since their last winning season in 2010. Great Sendek’s Raven, they’re just playing defense!? Isn’t that just what the Herbivores have been doing since the beginning of time? I mean, any school combining for just 22 wins over two seasons is arguably not playing much of anything except for underdog. But seriously, this comes as a big surprise to me, a metric I declined to notice, considering it’s the staple of these teams. Granted, they still shoot just 27% of their shots within the first 10 seconds of the possession (compared to 22% and 27% the past two seasons); which is to say they don’t exactly want to go too quickly. But we can’t discredit the fact that the Devils are greatly improved defenders. A fact Herb’s grinning about.

At 14-2, much has been made of the Devils’ schedule strength and with good reason. They play something hovering around the 300+ level, which is a really good number if you’re an aspiring offensive lineman. Oregon State has been their toughest game to date (by my own combination of KenPom rating and the fact that it was an away game, we call this the ButIndex), and the Beavers didn’t exactly strike fear into the Devils’ heart. But here’s the thing, and in my estimation it’s the most important statistic when push comes to shove: wins. All of the advanced stats go into predicting just how good the Sun Devils can or will be, but winning matters. They won that one at Oregon State and they’ll have yet another challenge this weekend as they head to Matt Court for a red hot Oregon team. Do they have what it takes to win? Well, evidently they have the defense.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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