Inside The Numbers: Creating A Game Score For College Basketball

Christian Watford was the main man for Indiana in the Hoosier win over Kentucky last season. - Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Can you find a way to come up with a single number that would represent a player's contribution to a win or loss in a basketball game? We look inside the numbers and take a stab at adjusting HOOPWAR to give us a starting point.

The season is opening Friday, and as to be expected, we will spend a great deal of time looking at the individual games and trying to determine who or what was most responsible for the win/loss.

How exactly do you do that though? We have some plus/minus data when people put it together. We have the standard scoring and rebounding numbers. But we don't have anything definitive that from game to game would hold consistent.

I have been working with my HOOPWAR numbers to come up with a game score for individual players. Now what is interesting with this is that you would expect the winning team to have a total HOOPWAR close to 1.0, while the losing team would have a total score closer to -1.0. That just isn't the case with the data. Sometimes a game hinges on a single play at the end and the total team data doesn't add up nicely.

Take last year's game when Indiana edged Kentucky at home by one. Kentucky's total HOOPWAR for the game was 0.32. Indiana managed just a 0.12. The Wildcats actually played better, but ended up on the losing end. I would reckon that is how a lot of close games will end up when we look at them.

Breaking those games down into the individual performances seems easy. We can take the individual HOOPWAR scores for the game, unaltered by league performance, and compare them. But those numbers are all going to be a little less than 0.5.

No one wants to work in those small numbers, so how do we get to a number that means something more.

There were two methods that seemed to make sense:

  1. Look at all the HOOPWAR scores across the game, normalize them and give each player a final score between 0 and 100. This shows within the confines of the game which players excelled the most, with the majority of the scores falling in the 50 range.
  2. Multiply the single game HOOPWAR score by 100 giving us a range between probably -30 and 50 for each player. The players that contribute the most toward a team's win will score somewhere between 30 and 50. Most players will end up between -10 and 10.

Having run a few of the exhibitions through the formula, and the Indiana-Kentucky game, I think the way that makes the most sense is the second method.

While knowing within the context of the game which players were that much better, it is harder to compare across games, and across the day who excelled the most in the moment.

Going back to the Indiana win, the player who did the most to get their team the win was actually Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But Kentucky actually had two players who played significant minutes and ended up costing them the game: Terrence Jones and Darius Miller. The two combined for a -44 game score, or almost half a win of detriment to their team.

Indiana had just a single player who finished with a game score less than -10. Christian Watford with a game score of 30.7 was the leader for the Hoosiers.

Looking at Green Bay's win over St. Norbert earlier this week, you could see the immediate impact of freshman forward Jordan Fouse (Horizon League Hoops had a nice analysis of the game). Fouse racked up a game score of 44.0, leading the Phoenix thanks to his all-around great game, even though he only scored seven points.

Brennan Cougill finished second, just a bit behind with Alec Brown actually finishing third for the team.

Granted this is just an exhibition, but if Fouse is going to be turning in scores like that, perhaps Green Bay is underrated within the Horizon League. Just assuming them to finish third behind Detroit and Valparaiso could be widely wrong.

This system might not be perfect, but I think it can help us to identify those players who contribute in ways that the scoring line might not pick up. Fouse's all-around effort might have been missed if you just looked at the scoring. In the Kentucky game, Anthony Davis had a similar night on the scoring side, but his rebounding and defense meant more to the Wildcat's than Marquis Teague's 15 points.

We won't use this for every game, but it will be something we turn to when we need to look a little deeper for the top contributors.

For another example of the Game Score in action, you can download this box score from Southern Illinois' exhibition win over Upper Iowa.

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