Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tortoise vs. Hare

This is a bit more background on the way we look at basketball. Last year, we stumbled across the stylings of Ken Pomeroy and the Big Ten Wonk (a.k.a. John Gasaway) out there on the Internets, and they opened our eyes to a new way of thinking about basketball: a tempo-free way. The wonk does a much better job of explaining it than we can hope to, but the idea is to look at basketball stats without an eye to how fast the teams play, to normalize the numbers per possession (or, more commonly, per 100 possessions). So whether you play as fast as North Carolina last year (the proverbial hare) or at a more tortoise-like, Georgetown-oriented pace (at least last year), we can compare the efficiency of your offense and defense on equal footing (recognizing that both were outstanding O's last year, and UNC's D was excellent), despite the number of points scored or allowed per game.

One upshot of viewing things through a tempo-free lens is that numbers we've known for a long time, things like points per game, rebounds per game, and the dreaded rebound margin are, if not tossed out the window, then at least put in a trunk at the foot of the bed, to be brought out only rarely. Instead, we'll talk of things like offensive and defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, and rebound percentages.

Much of this talk is inspired by Dean Oliver's book Basketball on Paper, which suggests there are four main factors used to evaluate team play. Pomeroy's site allows us all to jump into those numbers for all Division 1 NCAA men's basketball teams, and we love it. So we will frequently refer to that site.

There's more we could write, but we think kenpom and Gasaway really do an excellent job of providing background on this stuff. If you like what they have to say, you can find them at their new home over at Basketball Prospectus.

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