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How coaches view advanced analytics in college basketball

The New Math seems here to stay

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee State at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, Adjusted Tempo, Points Per Possession, and Effective Field Goal Percentage are buzzwords in college basketball, but are they buzzwords that matter to head coaches?

We spoke with dozens of coaches from around the country and asked them one simple question: How important are advanced analytics to you and your program?

One would think they should be important. After all, when you look at last year’s top seeds in the NCAA tournament, three No. 1 seeds (North Carolina, Virginia and Kansas) were among the top four teams in Ken Pomeroy’s Advanced Efficiency Margin. Eventual champion Villanova had the top rating and was a 2 seed. ‘AdjEM,’ as KenPom labels it, is the difference between your offensive and defensive efficiency ratings.

National finalist North Carolina, at 123.3, was also the most efficient team in the nation on offense. The Tar Heels averaged 1.23 points per possession. Eight-win Florida A&M had the lowest efficiency rating at 82.6 or .83 points per possession.

The best Adjusted Defensive Efficiency team in the country was the Missouri Valley’s Wichita State. The Shockers held teams to a combined rating of 87.6 or .88 points per possession.

Overall, 18 of the top 20 teams in Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rating were single-digit seeds in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Of the two teams that were not single-digit seeds, SMU was ineligible for postseason play Saint Mary’s may have been snubbed from tournament selection.

But despite the numbers, coaches from the MVC and Ohio Valley differed in the value they placed on these ‘Money Ball’ types of equations.

First, a quick lesson on what all these stats mean, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy:

Possessions: FGA – OR + TO X .475FTA

Effective Field Goal Percentage: [FGM + (.5 X 3PM)] / FGA

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (per KenPom): “an estimate of the offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) a team would have against the average D-I defense.”

Points per possession: Points scored divided by the number of possessions you had in the given game. However that ‘possessions’ number is arrived at by the math equation above.

Got it?

With the rise of the three-point shot, the Golden State Warriors’ rampage through the NBA’s regular season, and increased emphasis on hands free defense, coaches are running to the Advanced Analytics buffet table.

Southern Illinois-Edwardsville coach Jon Harris:

“I’m not big on [advanced analytics] honestly. We spend a lot of time working on the mid-range pull ups. It is a considerably easy shot to get at times. I’m not a big analytics guy. I’m not really big on stats.”

Eastern Kentucky coach Dan McHale:

“I agree with it and I study it, and watch a lot of film. I use analytics a lot. We led the OVC in three-pointers last year and we’re going to try to do it again this year.”

Belmont coach Rick Byrd:

“We’ve been there a long time. I think if you went on Ken Pomeroy’s site and looked at our two-point percentage over the last eight or nine years, you’d see we’re among the best in the country, because we try not to take ‘tough twos.’ I’ve always thought the 17-foot jumper and 10-foot runner do not add up to one-point-per-possession’ and that’s what you need to be successful.”

“Since we’ve been Division I, only Duke has made more threes than us, but it’s because we go inside first.”

Drake coach and former Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti:

“Our analytics are more to what equates to winning. You want to hold teams to 30 points or less per half, get to the free throw line 10 times or more per half, and hold your turnover number to six or less, you’ll win.”

“Before I came to Drake, if you did any two of those on any given night you won. Those are the things we talk about, because those are things you can control.”

Bradley coach Brian Wardle:

“I’m kind of an old school guy. You can see a lot of that stuff in note taking and film, but the three-pointer is such a factor in the game. If you give up rhythm threes, you can get punished at this level, especially in our league (MVC). Guarding the three-point line is critical.”

Tennessee State coach and reigning OVC coach of the year Dana Ford:

“We’re limited in terms of our resources. Once we get in the season, there are a couple of websites we try to check out, just to get a feel for how a team plays. Once you get half way through the league, you can really look at a team and see what they’re trying to do without having a lot of time to study film.”

Evansville coach Marty Simmons:

“We pay attention to all of it ,” said Simmons. “When you play against the teams we play in this league, we’re trying to take ideas all the time and learn the things that fit our personnel. We’re willing to change.”

Simmons’ team is one of the few that plays the traditional ‘motion offense’ and says the two-point-basket is still part of the Purple Aces’ arsenal.

“We’re big advocates of (guards) stopping at ten or 12 feet and knocking in the pull up or making the extra pass,” said Simmons. “You have to evaluate your own personnel to know for sure.”