The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Ken Pomeroy

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 8th, 2011

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

One of the great things about college hoops is that with nearly 350 Division I teams, you can find any and every playing style under the sun. Some teams push the ball at frenetic paces in an effort to wear down the opposition, while others prefer to slow down and make every possession count. Smaller teams rely on outside shooting and bigger teams assert their dominance down low, so in comparing teams to one another, how do you account for such widely varying styles of play? This is the question that cult hero and statistician Ken Pomeroy longs to answer. The solution isn’t always simple, but it boils down to evaluating how teams fare on a possession-to-possession basis, rather than using the commonly-held method of measuring events from game to game. At KenPom.com, fans can track the performance of all 345 Division I teams in his tempo-free style. Over the last few years, his approach has moved from the underground into the mainstream, mentioned by media outlets such as ESPN.com and The Wall Street Journal during the college hoops season.  He is also a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus and you can follow him on Twitter (@kenpomeroy). In this interview, Ken took a few minutes to talk with us about his methodology and the growth of his website.

RTC: For our readers who are used to the more traditional “counting stats,” what makes your analysis different and worthwhile?

Ken Pomeroy: In all of the statistics I use, I’m trying to equalize opportunities. If you’re going to compare one offense to another, it’s not fair to look at raw points. North Carolina, for instance, has more opportunities to score (than an average team). It’s also not fair to compare defenses for the same reason. We look at rebounding percentage, for instance, which takes into account how many rebounds are available to a player when he’s on the floor to get an appreciation for whether he’s a good rebounder or not. Those are the things I try to do with all these stats.

RTC: One thing that makes your analysis easy to digest is that most of the teams that excel in traditional stats and occupy the top spots in the rankings also excel according to your tempo-free analysis. There are some exceptions, though – what are some schools in recent years that may not have had those alluring traditional stats but were more eye-catching in your analysis?

KenPom darling Belmont compensated for a lack of size with a brigade of long-range shooters like Mick Hedgepeth. (Getty Images)

KP: Wisconsin played at the second-slowest pace in the nation (ed. note – 58 possessions per game, compared to the national average of about 67), but had a very effective offense. They weren’t effective all of the time — they obviously had that ugly game against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament which called into question just how good their offense was.  Georgetown in their Final Four run in 2007 had an outstanding offense, but played a very slow pace. North Carolina’s 2005 championship team was criticized for their defense based on the points they allowed, but tempo-free, their defense was one of the best in the country. If you win 90-75, it looks like you gave up too many points, but when you factor in that the game was 80 possessions, it reveals a better defensive performance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: Regional Semifinals Day Two

Posted by nvr1983 on March 27th, 2009

dynamiteWe’ll be doing a full BGtD today so you won’t have any interruptions in coverage tonight. Honestly, last night’s games were kind of disappointing. Pittsburgh-Xavier was entertaining, but that was the only game that I would say was memorable from a pure basketball standpoint. Now the other games did have their own interesting subplots. UConn rolled over Purdue in a game that was close at points in the 2nd half, but I never really got the sense that the Huskies were in any danger of losing. I was particularly impressed with how the Huskies played despite the media circus that is going on around them. Missouri‘s victory over Memphis was entertaining although for me it was marred a little by the atrocious free throw shooting. As we mentioned last night, I really wonder what John Calipari does, if he does anything, for his team’s free throw shooting. At this point, I’m convinced J.J. Redick would have shot 70% from the free throw line if he had gone to Memphis. Also, what happened to vaunted Memphis defense. Missouri has a good offense, but they shouldn’t be able to hit triple digits in regulation against a team that went into the game with the #1 defense according to the Pomeroy numbers. I’m sure some of you took great pleasure in watching Villanova pick apart Duke leading to another early March exit for Coach K, but the game wasn’t exactly exciting if you didn’t have a rooting interest for (or in most people’s case against) a team.

The line-up for tonight should give us a couple of interesting games:

  • 7:07 PM: #12 Arizona vs. #1 Louisville
  • 7:27  PM: #3 Syracuse vs. #2 Oklahoma
  • 9:37 PM: #3 Kansas vs. #2 Michigan State
  • 9:57 PM: #4 Gonzaga vs. #1 UNC

We’ll be back around 7 for the start of tonight’s action. Leave your comments/questions and we’ll respond to them as soon as we start.

6:55 PM: A couple quick pieces of news to pass along in the midst of this Billy Gillispie madness and these somewhat important games tonight. Clemson‘s star forward Trevor Booker will return for his senior year. The news out of Iowa isn’t as good after Jake Kelly, Jeff Peterson, and David Palmer announced that they are transfering, which means that Todd Lickliter will need to replace 2 starting guards and a reserve forward.

7:10 PM: Chase Budinger makes a great play to temper Louisville’s great start. He’s going to need to have a great game tonight. If both teams use the press tonight, we’re going to get a blowout (and I think it will end up going in Louisville’s favor).

7:12 PM: I should warn you that I’m a big Chase Budinger fan so you’ve been warned. I haven’t seen a lot of him this year (stupid west coast starts), but I think he has the makings of a very solid NBA player.

7:14 PM: That’s not a good stat for Arizona. Only 6 Wildcats have scored in the NCAA tournament.

7:19 PM: Great play by Edgar Sosa feeding it to Preston Knowles. This pressure is going to kill Arizona if they only go 6 deep.

7:28 PM: I don’t think it will matter tonight, but I hope you paid attention to that FT statistic. Louisville shoots 63.8% as a team (307th out of 334 teams). That will come back to bite them. Just ask John Calipari. Actually he probably wouldn’t admit it because his team was just as bad last night. . .

7:30 PM: I think that any Blue Devil who mentions that they made the 1994 title game should put an asterisk by it on their resume saying that they rode Grant Hill‘s coattails there. If you don’t agree with me, see what happened the next year even if Coach K missed the last 2/3 of the season.

7:31 PM: It looks dead in Memphis. What do you guys think? I’m guessing it’s only 20% full. UNC fans must have bought up most of the stadium.

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Where Near Chokes Happen.

Posted by nvr1983 on June 9th, 2008

Like most basketball fans I spent last night watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals and assumed the game was over well before it actually was. Unlike most people I also sent taunting text messages to the Lakersfans I know with 1:21 left in the 3rd quarter when Boston went up by 20. I was feeling pretty confident in my rather moronic display of hubris when Boston was still up by 24 with 7:40 remaining in the game.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten Billy Packer’s faux pas from just over 2 months ago when he awarded Kansas a place in the NCAA championship game when they went up by 26 with 27:30left in their game against UNC–the Tar Heels subsequently cut into the margin enough to make the game competitive and make Packer look like an idiot once again. To be fair, 20 points with 16:21 left and 24 points with 7:40 left is certainly a much, much bigger margin than what Kansas was working with, but nonetheless I should have turned to the Bill James Lead Calculator before I sent those text messages (not to mention the voice mails).

A quick calculation would have revealed the following “facts”:
– At the time of my text messages (20 point lead with 16:21 left), the lead was 28% safe.
– At the time the Lakers started their comeback (24 point lead with 7:40 left), the lead was 91% safe although it would have been “over” (100% safe) according to James if the Celtics had the ball at that time.

Fortunately, the Celtics survived the Lakers 3-point barrage and Vladimir Radmanovic’s 5-step breakaway dunk to win or I would still be getting text messages and voice mails right now.

Moral of the story: Before you decide to call “ballgame” (and taunt everyone you know), ask yourself “What would Bill James do?”

Update: Apparently rtmsf decided to make a post about this late last night (an advantage of being on the West Coast) and being the idiot that I am (see the aforementioned reference to taunting text messages) I decided to throw up a post without looking at the blog even though I had mentioned that he might consider writing a post about it last night. Anyways, I just went to The Big Lead and saw that our blog was linked to and realized that this was a duplicate post. Hopefully, you can at least enjoy my stupidity. Hey, it was better than the “19-0. Next. . .” text that I sent when I saw Eli Manning jogging out onto the field with 2 minutes left. . .

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And the Angels Shall Sing…

Posted by rtmsf on April 22nd, 2008

Several commentators are already all over this story, but we cannot simply sit by without giving our view on the NY Daily News blurb that Mr. Cash and Purveyor of All Things Hoops and Holy, Mr. William “Billy” Packer, might be on thin ice at CBS for his insistence that the national semifinal game between Kansas and UNC was “over” at the 7:32 mark in the first half.

Bill Raissman writes:

CBS is paying $6 billion for the right to air the tourney over the life of its contract with the NCAA. From a business perspective, telling viewers to turn off the TV is not a great idea, especially in a soft advertising market. Naming a “winner” with plenty of time left in a game does not sit well with corporations paying top dollar to advertise their products during the tournament. Some of these same companies will be asked to purchase time on next year’s tourney.

Photo Credit – Where’s He Get the Mask?

You might recall that we wrote last week that, from a purely statistical standpoint (h/t Bill James), Packer was egregiously wrong (the magic number of insurmountability was 44 at that point in the game); but from our own sensory perspective and the ultimate result of the game, he was absolutely correct.

Still, we find it beyond hilarious that a man who has based his entire career on unabashed vitriol, criticism, vituperation and downright nastiness could end up getting canned (or at least censured) for something like this. Should that happen, there will undoubtedly be a national day of celebration not unlike what we saw when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon – angels will sing, the dealers will bust and even the strippers will taste a little sweeter.

In summation, remember kiddies – all you young Packers out there with your mics and your viscous hatred – you cannot call a game over in the first half, but you can do this:

  • Call Allen Iverson a “tough monkey” on the air of the Georgetown-Villanova game in 1996.
  • Publicly disparage two Duke women checking press passes at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2000 by stating, “Since when do we let women control who gets into a men’s basketball game? Why don’t you go find a women’s game to let people into?” When asked if he was joking, Packer reported said, “No, that’s just the kind of guy I am.”
  • Tell Charlie Rose in an interview in 2007 that he always “fag[s] out,” as in promising to help but not following through.

All we can say is best of luck to Billy in his dealings with CBS brass, as we’d hate for him to have to revert to his Mr. Cash persona full-time. For poking fun at such a sinister figure, we’d normally be a little nervous that Packer might read this and hunt us down with his henchmen, but remember, the man famously doesn’t even own a computer. Whew.

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When is a Game Out of Reach?

Posted by rtmsf on April 14th, 2008

If you’ll allow us the liberty of jumping back two weekends ago to the Final Four, specifically the Kansas-UNC game, we’ll present you with the following call by the venerable Mr. Cash himself, Billy Packer:

Of course, Packer was swiftly excoriated for this comment by the public and blogosphere at large for being a crotchety old bastard who hates everyone and wants you to die  national commentator whose arrogant, smug disposition is unsurpassed (third try – this is hard) knowledgable yet polarizing media figure who sometimes takes indefensible :-) positions as a product of his stubbornness.

The question we had at the time, and the question we still want to consider is this – is calling a game over when one team is leading by 26 points with 27:30 remaining in the game defensible?  Packer’s statement sure looked stupid when UNC got the margin down to 54-50 with approximately ten minutes to go in the game.  But UNC didn’t complete the comeback (losing by eighteen) and it’s quite difficult to find examples in the college game of really good teams (such as Kansas) blowing immense leads and still losing the game.  The only one we can think of in recent history was Maryland’s blown 22-point lead in the first half over Duke at the 2001 Final Four (Duke won 95-84), and that Terp team absolutely could not get the Devils out of their heads (recall the Miracle Minute at College Park that season).

Even Carolina Fans Hate Packer

Therefore from a qualitative standpoint, Packer was probably right.  The energy that a team like UNC would have had to expend to not only erase the 26-point deficit but also take the lead and win the game down the stretch would have been mindboggling.  While good teams come back from 20-point deficits to win games a fair amount of the time, it rarely happens against other good teams.  If you hadn’t noticed, Kansas was a pretty good team this year.  UNC, as good as they were, was not going to come back and win that game.  They just weren’t

What about from a quantitative perspective?  In a piece published at slate.com the week prior to the 2008 Tourney, Bill James (the original sabre-metrician) noted that he has a trusty heuristic that he uses for college hoops games to make a determination on whether the lead is large enough to “call it.”  Too bad Packer didn’t talk to this guy beforehand.  Here’s his formula:

  • Take the number of points one team is ahead.
  • Subtract three.
  • Add a half-point if the team that is ahead has the ball, and subtract a half-point if the other team has the ball. (Numbers less than zero become zero.)
  • Square that.
  • If the result is greater than the number of seconds left in the game, the lead is safe.

Plugging the UNC-Kansas lead when Packer made his statement into James’ handy little calculator, we find that a 26-point lead with 27:32 remaining in the game is only 33% safe, which effectively means that the lead is absolutely and completely safe for the next 11.7 minutes of the game.  To be clear, it doesn’t mean that Kansas had a one-third chance of winning – it means that KU was one-third of the way (statistically speaking) from holding an insurmountable lead at that point in the game.

 

Sorry Billy, You Jumped the Gun 

So what would have been a truly insurmountable lead at that juncture, thereby making Packer look utterly brilliant (ok, difficult, we know)?  According to James, it would have taken a 44-point lead to justify Packer (or anyone) calling the game over with that much time left.  This seems rather high, considering that we only remember one thirty-point comeback in our lifetime (Mardi Gras Miracle),  but them’s the numbers.  As for us, we stand by the hard-and-fast rule of thirty points at any moment in the game.  We’ll give odds on that number the rest of our lives and become a rich man doing it.       

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