Monday, December 20, 2010

We have a basketball team here

As usual, it’s taken me a little while to get into the college hoops season, especially with the way the last few years have concluded for the Cincinnati Bearcats. This year, I’ll admit, I was very skeptical after uninspiring wins against the likes of Mount St. Mary’s, IUPU Fort Wayne, and Savannah State. Since the early shakiness, however, Cincinnati has done all you can expect, absolutely destroying a decent Dayton team and now rolling over Oklahoma (sandwiched between routs of Wright State, Utah Valley, and Georgia Southern.

Admittedly, the strength of schedule has been laughably weak (even Dayton and Oklahoma, the two marquee wins, are no Goliaths), but Cincy has done just about all you can ask on the court. The offense still hasn’t been great, but the defense has been very strong. Regardless of the competition, you know you’re doing something right when you play ten straight games against D-1 competition winning by ten points or more in every one of them. edit: not sure what I was talking about here, there were a couple within ten.

The real challenge – the Big East conference schedule – is still to come, not to mention non-conference games against Miami of Ohio and Xavier. Still, UC has set themselves up nicely by taking care of business, and if they finish anywhere near Pomeroy’s projections (22-9, 10-8 BE) the NCAA tourney will, for once, be a lock. Games are played on the court, of course, but I have to say – hesitantly -- that I’m just a little bit excited to see how this one unfolds.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Replacement level in college basketball

In baseball, the concept of replacement level, popularized in the 1990s by the likes of Keith Woolner (now working for the Cleveland Indians), has developed into the standard way to evaluate players. Arguably, the main reason for using replacement level is to balance rate stats and counting stats, and to provide an accurate assessment of a player’s total marginal contribution to his team.

If you use average as the baseline to rate player performance, then it looks like an average player has no value. We know that an average player does, in fact, have value. A team of average players should win 50% of their games. What we really want to compare a player’s performance to is some baseline below average, preferably at the theoretical replacement level.

Though there is still much debate in the baseball analysis community over how to precisely define replacement level, the overall idea is relatively simple. Here’s a basic definition of replacement level, offered by Woolner (linked above):

Replacement level is the *expected* level of performance the average team can obtain if it needs to replace a starting player at minimal cost.

Here’s a basketball-specific example:

Player Points/game Games
Player A 20 25
Player B 15 40

Obviously, using points is simplistic, but the numbers are for illustration purposes only. So, which player is more valuable? Let’s assume a replacement level player scores 5 points a game. In a 40 game season, Player B, playing in every game, provided 15 points/per. However, player A only played in 25 games, so we have to add in 15 games of replacement level production (5 points/game). His new average is 14.4. Or we could say Player B is 400 points better than replacement level (a RL player would score 400 points less, in the same number of games) , and Player A is 375 points above replacement level. Same thing. So, these two players, with different levels of playing time and performance, are basically equal.

But how do we truly define replacement level in basketball? As we have discussed before, basketball analysis is not baseball analysis, for a variety of reasons (most notably, they are different sports!). And, more specifically, college basketball is not NBA basketball.

In the NBA, when a player goes down mid-season, the organization has many options on how to replace that player. They can elect to do it entirely with players already on the roster, simply changing playing time and/or positions around. Or they can go out and look at available free agents or players in the D-League. Trades are also a possibility. In college basketball, once the recruiting period is over and the season has begun, teams are essentially restricted to playing out the season with their roster.

So, we are left with (at least )two questions. How do we define replacement level in basketball? And, specifically to college hoops, how do we apply this concept? Should replacement level be the expected performance of the last player on the bench, or the best player on the campuses club team? These questions are not easy, but if we are able to define replacement level in college basketball, we can gain a better understanding of player value.

Spam – Not good in any form

I just noticed that the comments section of this blog has been flooded with spam. Nothing worse than poking around a blog, only to see it filled with spam.

I have now enabled comment moderation, which means I’ll have to moderate any comment before it appears on the site. This is not a big deal, as this blog has received a total of about five comments. Please, my fellow humans – no spam-bots allowed! – I encourage you to comment on any posts, whenever you have something to add. I have not been posting much recently, as you have probably noticed, but hopefully that will change.

Bearcat Blogger

Goodbye, Lance

It has been a while since I’ve written here – the spammers have let me know, flooding the comments section. It has also been a while since I’ve diligently followed the Bearcats, as my interests have given way to baseball, school, and other “priorities.”

Apparently, Lance Stephenson is not returning, as he will enter the NBA draft and has hired an agent. Stephenson had an interesting season with Cincinnati, at times dazzling with his superior athleticism and understanding of the game, while at other times playing a non-factor.

Overall, Stephenson averaged 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 28 minutes a game. He averaged 2.4 turnovers and one steal per game, while shooting .440 from the field, .664 from the line, and an ugly .219 from three (he shot 50% on 2pt FGs).

While Stephenson’s presence will undoubtedly be missed, note this nugget: His effectiveFG% of 46.2% was below the team average of 47.6% (neither figures particularly good, by the way), and Lance shot a team-leading 26% of the time while on the court. He is going to be missed, but his shoes are not impossible to fill.

Best of luck in the NBA, Lance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Heartbreak city

I really don't know what to say after a loss like that.

I mean, there are a lot of things to be said -- some good, some bad -- but I don't think I could put them into comprehensible sentences right now.

I don't understand what Dion Dixon was doing, but I feel for the kid. Hopefully it's something he can build on positively, both in his basketball career and his life.

Yeah .... what a tough loss. It's amazing how quickly all of the hope and optimism -- for a huge win and a realistic shot at the NCAA tournament -- can go out the window in a matter of six seconds. What a helpless feeling it is to watch it unravel.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stephenson staying?

I missed Bill Koch's piece from a few weeks ago, but in it Lance Stephenson says:

“I think I’m going to stay and keep working,” Stephenson said. “I don’t think I’ve had an NBA season this year so the best choice for me is to stay.”
In what has been another dismal finish to a season, finally some good news. Getting an extra year of Lance Stephenson is at least some consolation for what could be another lost season. Stephenson has shown flashes of brilliance to go along with plenty of freshman struggles. It's definitely fun to think about how good he might be this time next year, hopefully still here at Cincinnati.

On the year, he's averaged 12/5/2.4 in 28 minutes a game. He's shooting 44% from the field, but just under 20% on threes. His 98 Offensive Rating is fifth on the Bearcats.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cash money

Cashmere Wright scored a career-high 24 points (on 9-11 shooting) to spark Cincinnati to a 92-88 win over Providence on Saturday night. Wright also recorded five assists, no turnovers, three steals, and four rebounds.

Cincinnati's offense, in general, was tremendous all night, scoring 92 points in 79 possessions. They shot 57% from the field, and 44% (8-18) from three-point range. They did, however, struggle at the line again, with an embarrassing 20-41 performance that allowed Providence to make a game of it late.

Rashad Bishop went 3-3 from deep, scoring 16 points on nine shots. He also added six rebounds. Lance Stephenson quietly had a solid game with 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Deonta Vaughn scored just 12 points on eight shots, and went 5-10 at the line (where he had been shooting nearly 90% all year).

The Providence defense is 15th in the Big East, according to Pomeroy's ratings, so it is not surprising that Cincy had a great night offensively (though it's still very encouraging). Conversely, their offense is very talented, ranking 27th in the country. After making their first six three pointers, though, they went just 7-28 from beyond the arc the rest of the night.

What we saw on Saturday night was not a familiar sight : a fast-paced, high scoring game that Cincinnati clearly took control of. The defense was not up to par, but offensively they showed that they can win a shootout.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Can ya say offense?

Cincinnati rolled over South Florida earlier tonight, 78-70. Sure, they only won by eight points, but for the most part they controlled the game, maintaining a ~ten point advantage throughout the second half.

The offense finally came to life, as Cincy shot 56% overall and 36% from beyond the arc. They were led by the sharp shooting of Deonta Vaughn (20 points on 10 field goals), Rashad Bishop (15 pts/11 fgs), and Jaquon Parker (15 pts/8fgs). Those three also combined for 12 rebounds, 12 assists, and only 2 turnovers.

Yancy Gates played only 10 minutes due to foul trouble, but did score 8 points and grab 2 bounds. Lance Stephenson did not play because of a sore ankle.

The offensive efficiency is promising because South Florida is a pretty solid defense, 50th in the nation in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency. Cincinnati shot the three ball relatively well in the first half, hitting 4 of 11 from long range, but what you have to like is that, despite that, they went inside in the second half. They shot 14-21 on two point point field goals in the second half, and only attempted 3 threes. They also got to the line 14 times (though only converted on 6 of those attempts).

Overall, it was nice to see some solid offensive play, mixing the occasional three point attempt with some easy buckets down low. The defense was not quite up to par, but tonight, for once, the offense picked up the slack.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

From the Big Win Department

In a tie game, Deonta Vaughn lobbed a pass to Yancy Gates in the final moments; Gates missed his first attempt, but followed successfully with just over two seconds to play. Notre Dame’s desperation shot hit the net, and UC got a well earned, much needed victory, 60-58.

Cincinnati improves to 12-6 (3-3 BE) on the year, while the Irish fall to 14-4 (3-2). Coming into the game Notre Dame was ranked 71st in the country by Pomeroy, and the Bearcats 55th. The game featured a big contrast in strengths, with ND’s high powered offense (4th, by Pomeroy) squaring off against Cincy’s strong defense (32nd).

The Bearcats held the Irish to 46% from two point range, and 29% from three. On the year, they were shooting 53% on twos and 43% on threes. The Cats forced Luke Harangody into eating up way too many ND possessions, as he shot 20 times (plus 2-6 on free throws), and turned it over 4 times, while managing to score just 14 points. UC also controlled the glass 50-31, led by 13 rebounds from Yancy Gates.

The only negative from this game, and it’s a pretty big one, is the offense. Against a terrible defense, ranked 237th in the country, Cincy shot just 32% in the game, and 24% from deep. That’s just ugly. The free-throw shooting was improved (13-18) and they only turned it over eight times, but they have to find a way to generate some offense.

Overall, though, this is a very big win obviously. South Florida, up next.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bump in the road or annual collapse?

If you look at the Mick Cronin Era, it is not hard to spot at least one trend. His Cincinnati teams tend to start hot, and finish poorly. Now the composition of the schedule, with many cupcakes coming early in the season and Big East clashes coming later, undoubtedly has something to do with this. But it is interesting to note, nonetheless:

2006-07: 9-3 start, 2-16 finish
2007-08: 13-12 start, 0-7 finish
2008-09: 10-2 start, 8-12 finish

This year’s team was at one point 10-3, with three very impressive wins over Maryland, Vanderbilt, and Connecticut. Now, just four games later, they site at 11-6, losing games to Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, and St. Johns.

These next two games, home contests against Notre Dame and South Florida, both beatable but tough teams, may play a big role in deciding how this season will finish up. After this short two game home stand, Cincy has a slew of difficult games remaining on the schedule, including at Louisville, at Notre Dame, Syracuse, at UCONN, at South Florida, Marquette, at West Virginia, Villanova, and at Georgetown. Welcome to Big East basketball. There are really no “easy” games remaining, outside of maybe DePaul.