Analysis: 2011-12 Tar Heels Will Probably Not Be Roy William’s Best Team Ever

Posted by KCarpenter on October 4th, 2011

Gary Parrish makes an interesting case for this year’s North Carolina team as the best Roy Williams coached Tar Heel team ever.  He thinks that they will be better than both the 2005 and 2009 national champions. This is a bold claim, but he’s absolutely right given the criteria he’s using. Parrish makes the point that when all is said and done, this team will have more NBA draft picks and All-Americans than any of those other UNC teams. This is probably accurate. That said, it’s not a very good way of measuring how skilled a team is. Both NBA draft picks and All-American selections are measures of individual, subjective perception. These are measures that are grounded, ultimately, in opinion. It’s a fair way to look at teams, but for my money, I would rather evaluate and rank these teams by their actual on-court performance. So, for that, let’s take a look at out old friend, tempo-free efficiency statistics.

2011-12 Tar Heels Will Probably Not Be Roy William's Best Team Ever

Given the fact that the 2011-12 North Carolina team has yet to play a single game, we are going to have to make some assumptions to compare them to the 2009 and 2005 teams. Fortunately, this shouldn’t be too hard since this year’s team is mostly identical to last year’s team. UNC has already lost Leslie McDonald to injury, but should return Reggie Bullock back from his own injury.  No rotation players were lost to graduation or the NBA Draft aside from Justin Knox, and the team gains a number of skilled freshmen, headlined by P.J. Hairston and James McAdoo. So, let’s start with the 2010-11 team as the baseline and we can adjust from there. That team put up a 112.1 in adjusted offensive efficiency while posting an 88.5 in adjusted defensive efficiency. This would put the adjusted efficiency margin at +23.6 points per hundred possessions. This is quite good. But how does it compare to the two national title teams?

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Behind the Numbers: The Thin White Line and Foul Theory

Posted by KCarpenter on December 1st, 2010

Kellen Carpenter is an RTC contributor.

Moneyball isn’t the founding document of sabermetrics; that honor probably belongs to Bill James’ Baseball Abstract. That said, the reason that most baseball fans know about the advanced, modern approach to baseball statistics is because of Michael Lewis’s nearly 300-page story about the Oakland A’s. Well, they know either because of the the book itself or the uproar and debate around it. In any case, Moneyball was and remains a cultural phenomenon, a true breakthrough into the mainstream. Because of Moneyball, baseball and the dialogue around baseball has gotten smarter.

Battier Represents an Efficient Player Without Huge Stats

Basketball hasn’t had a single watershed moment like Moneyball. Progress in the advanced stats movement has come in fits and starts. Unsurprisingly, the closest thing to a mainstream breakthrough for advanced statistics in basketball came from Michael Lewis. “The No-Stats All-Star” was published February 13, 2009 in the New York Times, and focused on the world of advanced stats in basketball through the microcosm of the Houston Rockets player Shane Battier and his general manager, Darryl Morey. The article introduced the larger world to lots of fun ideas like offensive and defensive efficiency and adjusted plus/minus. It had a few interesting smaller nuggets too, and today we’ll be taking a look at one of those.

According to Morey (and the research), the worst possible outcome of a defensive play is to foul. In fact, Morey mentions that they identify other teams in the NBA that make use of the modern numbers-based thinking by looking to see which teams make a consistent and radical effort to avoid fouling. It’s a simple check, but one that makes sense: of the Four Factors that contribute to defensive efficiency, opponent’s free throw rate is the easiest to control. Telling a team to not foul is an easier instruction than “rebound better!” or “reduce your opponent’s effective field goal percentage!”

In any case, Morey’s observation made me curious as to which teams in college basketball make use of that mantra and consistently avoid fouling. To make sure that I didn’t wrongly consider a fluke year, I looked at the average team opponent free throw rate from 2006-10. For those keeping score at home, free throw rate is calculated by dividing attempted free throws by attempted field goals (and multiplied by 100 to get a slightly friendlier percentage). The average free throw rate for Divison I schools over the past five years comes in at 37.1%, while the fouling-est team registered a 54.3% and the best, least-fouling-est team managed a mere 23.3%.  [the complete and fully sortable list is located here as a Google Doc] Now, to name names: The top four teams who foul the least in order: Ohio State, Siena, Connecticut, and North Carolina. Three of these teams are perennial championship contenders and Siena is one of the most successful mid-majors of the past few years. The rest of the teams near the top of the list are a little more scattered. The top thirty teams on the list are an odd admixture of regular contenders (Syracuse, Florida, Arizona), mid-major spoilers (College of Charleston, George Mason), and middling teams of all sizes (Central Connecticut, Samford, Notre Dame, Boston College). So that’s interesting, but inconclusive.

But, what about the bottom of the list? Is there any discernible trend amongst the teams that foul the most? Well, here, the picture is clearer. The bottom seventy-five or so teams are almost exclusively small conference schools that have had middling success at best, though the true booby prize goes to Central Michigan, who, from 2006-10 averaged an opponent free throw rate at an astonishing 54.3%. So while it’s unclear that rarely fouling is the true mark of a great team in college basketball (though it does appear to have helped some very good teams), fouling a lot seems to be the mark of pretty bad to thoroughly mediocre teams.

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