Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Closing The Book On Hoops

                         In Conference Play
Off_Eff Def_Eff Margin ExpW-L

2005 112.0 (4) 110.5 (11) +1.5 9-7
2006 110.2 (4) 107.3 (9) +2.9 9-7
2007 101.1 (11) 111.4 (11) -10.3 4-12
2008 100.9 (10) 114.1 (12) -13.2 3-13
2009 105.1 (7) 110.9 (12) -5.8 6-10

Offense: Lowe finally gets it to come together right before he has to start over.

          eFG%        TO%        OR%         FTR        2FG%       3FG%      ShotDiff    Pts/ePoss
2007 53.1 (1) 22.5 (11) 26.2 (12) 34.7 (8) 51.9 (5) 37.0 (2) -9.8 (12) 1.30 (7)
2008 52.2 (4) 23.8 (12) 29.7 (12) 39.7 (4) 48.4 (8) 39.7 (1) -8.0 (12) 1.32 (6)
2009 53.4 (1) 22.3 (11) 31.8 (10) 35.4 (5) 51.0 (2) 38.7 (1) -5.3 (12) 1.35 (5)

[ShotDiff = shot attempt differential. The difference, per game, in shot attempts by the Pack and the Pack's opponents, with free throws factored in. The negative number means opponents are getting more attempts at the hoop.

Pts/ePoss = Points per turnover-less possession. The term "effective possessions" (ePoss) is credited to John Gasaway.]

The Pack's good shooting and ability to get to the line carried over, they posted their lowest turnover rate since Lowe arrived, and they were better on the offensive glass than any NC State team in the last five years. It was an outstanding offense down the stretch despite one huge flaw (turnovers), and the ultimate result was the most efficient offense of the Lowe era--one that was actually better than league average (104.1).

This offense was good enough to get us to the NCAAs had we managed anything remotely close to league-average defense, which was apparent in all the games where we blew significant leads. The frequently-good-O, consistently-bad-D combo gave a lot of games a disorienting feel. (Edited to add correction: "consistently bad" is not an accurate description of the defense in light of this research I overlooked. "Terrifyingly bad second half defense" works fine instead.) The Pack would look like a 10-6 team for stretches, then have the offense give out and fail to compensate with stops, making them look like a 3-13 team.

For a lineup that will have a completely different feel in 2010, I see a couple of keys:

1.) Get the TO% under 20.0. There is going to be a significant adjustment period as guys who've either never played at the college level or aren't used to heavy minutes at the college level attempt to get comfortable with what's expected of them. It's likely that shooting and overall cohesiveness is going to be a problem for a while, which makes it extremely important that they give themselves as many effective possessions as possible.

2.) Clearly define roles sooner. Tracy Smith's insertion into the lineup was one reason why the offense became more efficient, but Lowe's transition to a tighter (generally 8-man) lineup shouldn't be overlooked either. I don't think it was a coincidence that when the role players found their minutes growing more consistent they started playing better. The sooner the coaches establish a set of expectations for the new contributors (before January would be preferable), the better off the team is going to be. Save the trial and error for pre-conference play. The production is going to be inconsistent, and that's okay, but I think the coaches need to do a better job of looking past small samples and staying focused on the long-term plan.

Defense: We are still left to beg.

           eFG%        TO%         OR%        FTR        2FG%       3FG%
2007 51.2 (6) 17.1 (12) 39.3 (12) 30.1 (2) 49.4 (6) 37.5 (11)
2008 52.5 (11) 16.5 (11) 36.4 (10) 32.1 (2) 48.7 (6) 42.2 (12)
2009 51.6 (12) 17.1 (11) 35.7 (7) 31.3 (3) 50.9 (12) 35.7 (8)

If you're going to give your opponents a lot of first and second chances, you'd better be able to force them to miss a lot of shots. We've never been able to do that, so the crappy unit Lowe inherited from Sendek has remained crappy. In fact, if you looked at the defensive factors from both eras, it wouldn't be clear where one ended and the other began. We've had the same issues for the better part of a decade. While Lowe's offense shows obvious contrast, his fingerprints aren't as easy to find at the defensive end. That's partly a reflection of the Princeton-optimized personnel with which Lowe has had to work, but that doesn't give him a free pass for his inability to forge his own defensive identity.

I don't doubt that the team's shortcomings are clear to Lowe, so it's disappointing that we haven't been very effective at obscuring them. Shaping up the defense is the tougher of the two tasks, though, and I understand that. He may try to use the team's quicker, smaller lineups to more aggressively contest passes or press with greater frequency, but those things come with their own set of problems. For one, I think the press-heavy styles of the likes of Tennessee and Clemson are self-defeating in the long term.

What's bothersome as I look to next season and beyond is the 2FG% defense, which held together okay in Lowe's first two years but collapsed in 2009. That's much less likely to be a fluke than 3FG% defense, and this was Lowe's best defensive rebounding team, so we can't just chalk it up to opponents getting cheap looks off of boarded misses, because they got fewer of those, not more.

Does it hurt you? To love, I mean?

Yes it does, Bob Pollard. Yes it does.