Saturday, January 26, 2008

Preview: Connecticut vs. Indiana

While we don't like for a team's tempo to cloud our view of the team's numbers, it's good to be aware of how fast teams like to play. When they play at vastly different paces, it can make one team or the other play differently than it likes. However, in this case, both teams play at a similar, and reasonably fast, pace, with UConn averaging an adjusted 71.9 possessions per 40 minutes and Indiana clicking along at an adjusted 70.5.

When the Huskies have the ball
UConn doesn't shoot the ball particularly well overall, posting an above average but middling 51.1 effective field goal percentage (ranked number 131 in the country). The pieces behind that shooting are hitting 51.5% of their two-point shots (good for 86th in the country) but only 34.1% of their 3's (210th nationally). That below-average 3-point shooting is probably why a full 328 teams take more three pointers than does UConn, as only 25% of the shots that UConn launches are trifectas. Still, the Huskies offense is the 19th most efficient offense in the country, scoring 115.8 points per 100 possessions. Given mediocre shooting, what drives that efficiency? I'm glad you asked, because, while the Huskies eFG% isn't particularly impressive, the other 3 of the Four Factors are pretty daggone good. They only turn the ball over on 19.4% of their posssessions (57th in the country), and they grab almost 39% of their own missed shots, good for 25th in the country. But the real engine to the O seems to be free throws. While UConn makes 70.4% of their freebies, which is about average but again not stellar, they shoot more free throws than anyone else in the country. As Ken Pomeroy pointed out in his article yesterday, a team that shoots 70% from the stripe will average a gaudy 140 points per 100 posssessions where they earn two free throws. If you tend to get a lot of those types of possessions, you're going to score some points.

Now let's take a look at how all that fits in with IU's defense. Indiana's opponents only post a 44.9 eFG%, which makes the Hoosiers 30th best in the country at defending the basket. The Hoosiers are right around the middle of the pack in forcing turnovers on 21.6% of opponents' possessions, and they're somewhat above average when it comes to fouling, allowing an 89th-ranked free throw rate of 31.7. What the Hoosiers do especially well is keep the opposing team off of the offensive glass, allowing their opponents to grab only 27.6% of their missed shots.

So it looks like there will be a real battle on the boards on Connecticut's end. It also looks like Connecticut might make their customary bazillion trips to the free throw line. However, in the Hoosiers favor there is that their opponents shoot only 61.5% from the strip for some reason. I don't know if that means that IU has faced poor-shooting teams, that Assembly Hall (where IU has played 12 of their 18 game this year) is a tough place to shoot FT's, or that the Hoosiers are smart about whom they send to the line. Possibly all three things are in play.

When the Hoosiers have the ball
Unlike UConn, IU is quite good at putting the ball in the basket, posting an 18th best in the country 55.3 eFG%. The Hoosiers do just fine from bonus-land, hitting 37.5% of their 3's (85th nationally), but they excel at hitting their 2's, netting 54.8% of them, and only 15 teams in the land can boast a better number there. IU is pretty middle of the road in handling the ball, turning it over on 21.1 % of their possessions (136th in the country). Like UConn, the Hoosiers are pretty good on the offensive glass, grabbing a 47th best 37.3% of their own misses. Also like the Huskies, IU gets to the line a lot, posting a 6th-ranked free throw rate of 33.7. Most of that is driven by DJ White, who gets to the line regularly, as effective big men are wont to do, and by Eric Gordon, who gets to the line even more often, which is highly unusual for a shooting guard. Indiana also shoots quite well as a team once they get to the FT line, converting nearly 75% of the free ones.

Defensively, the Huskies are pretty good team with a 51st-ranked adjusted effiency of 92.4. They only force turnovers on 18.2% of opponents possessions, which is a lowly 324th in the country. They also allow their opponents to rebound 33.5% of their misses, making UConn the 191st ranked defensive rebounding team. So how is their defense any good? It's all about eFG% and fouls, as UConn is ranked 14th in the nation in both categories. The Huskies opponents only have a FT rate of 25.0, and their eFG% is only 43.7. Interestingly, UConn is either not effective at or not interested in stopping 3-pointers, as they allow their opponents to hit 37.1% of their 3's (253rd in the nation). That might be because they are intensely focused on stopping the two-point shots, limiting their opponents to 37.8% of those. In this land of ours, only Nebraska defends two-pointers better than UConn. The reason it's so hard to hit 2's against UConn: they block a full 20.2% of those shots, and only Mississippi St. can claim to block shots more frequently. It is apparently exceedingly hard to shoot over or around the likes of 7'3" center Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson, and Jeff Adrien, who are all accomplished shot blockers, unless one takes those shots from way out at the 3-point line.

Putting those numbers head to head makes me think that the Hoosiers are in for a long day offensively unless they can manage to turn those shot blockers into foulers, or take more than their customary 32.3% (ranked 212th in the country) of their shots from beyond the arc. Also, I think this is going to be a slow-moving game for the fans, given how often both of these teams tend to get to the free throw line. However, Jim Calhoun has suspended his top two off-guards for unspecified reasons, and they didn't even make the trip to Indiana, which might free up the Hoosier back court to do some of that damage. Eric Gordon and Armon Bassett could have a huge day if they can manage to dial it in from long distance. We may even seen Lance Stemler chuck it from deep more than once or twice this game.

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