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Losing Streaks And Injury Splits, Part 1

Before I start looking at the impact of injured or suspended players, I want to talk a little about losing streaks. (This piggy-backs nicely on Ken Pomeroy’s recent writing on the predictive power of wins.) This weekend we heard a lot about Louisville’s three-game losing streak and Minnesota’s four-game losing streak.

The point I want to make is that not all losing streaks are created equally. When Illinois went on a recent losing streak against Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northwestern, John Groce’s team played distressingly poor basketball. They played basketball roughly equivalent to the 229th best team in the nation. That was the type of losing streak that correctly caused people to adjust their expectations. Even if Illinois had a few nice wins early in the year, they were NOT a Top-25 team.

But Minnesota and Louisville’s recent losing streaks have been much less distressing. While losing four in a row, Minnesota has still played roughly equivalent to the 32nd best team in the nation. And while Louisville has lost three in a row, the Cardinals have been roughly equivalent to the 55th best team in the nation. Both losing streaks could have easily been stopped with a few bounces. Had Minnesota’s Rodney Williams made a free throw in a one point loss, or had Georgetown’s seldom used Aaron Bowen not tipped in a circus shot against Louisville, we wouldn’t be talking about long losing streaks at all.

That’s not to say that those two teams are playing well right now. Both team’s offenses and defenses have fallen off in recent games. But neither team’s performance is remarkably distressing. In fact, I’m much more distressed by how Kentucky is playing in the SEC this season. The Wildcats have gone 4-2, but given how poor the SEC is this year, Kentucky has actually been playing worse basketball than Louisville during the losing streak.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Illinois*

112.7

91.3

14

2

0.8965

Illinois (losing streak)

99.1

106.8

0

3

0.3163

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota

117.4

85.6

15

1

0.9622

Minnesota (losing streak)

110.8

92.2

0

4

0.8681

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisville

113.9

79.2

16

1

0.9764

Louisville (losing streak)

105.9

91.4

0

3

0.8181

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kentucky (non-conference)

111.7

84.4

9

4

0.9467

Kentucky (SEC play)

107.8

96.7

4

2

0.7543

*Does not include Sunday’s game.

Splits replicate the Adjusted Offense and Defense calculation on Kenpom.com which controls for opponent quality and venue. These measure how many points the team would score on a neutral floor against an average D1 team based on the team’s performance in the sample of games.

All this suggests that Minnesota and Louisville will be relevant at the end of the year, while I can’t be quite as certain about Kentucky.

For the record, I am a little nervous about Russ Smith’s play the last two games. Louisville’s national-player-of-the-year candidate has posted ORtgs below 100 in back-to-back games. (From the sideline, I can tell you Georgetown freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was very much bothering Russ Smith on Saturday.) Louisville hasn’t quite played a juggernaut schedule yet, and I’m worried if Smith might revert to his old inconsistency under the grind of Big East play.

Unfortunately, sometimes a breakout performance is just a hot-streak. As an example, look at Florida St.’s Michael Snaer. Snaer posted a career high 110 ORtg last year, and everyone thought he would be an ACC superstar this year. But Snaer has always had turnover problems prior to last season, and after a year of cutting down the turnovers, Snaer’s turnovers are back with a vengeance this season. Snaer’s ORtg has suffered because of it.

Similarly, Wisconsin's Ryan Evans is making last year look like the fluke. Here are Evan’s ORtgs over the last four years:

2009: 92

2010: 82

2011: 102

2012: 92

Sometimes when inefficient players suddenly look efficient, it really is just a temporary fluke. Russ Smith has clearly played brilliantly this season, but until we get to March, I am always going to wonder if the inconsistent Russ Smith, who falls in love with impossible shots, isn’t still around.

Of course, even if I believe in Minnesota and Louisville, these losing streaks will matter to the NCAA selection committee. And personally, I believe they should matter. A lot of people advocate for seeding the NCAA tournament based on team quality (read: Margin of Victory), not based on team accomplishment (read: Quality Wins). And I understand the arguments. Certainly, when you don’t seed by team quality, you run into situations where a 1-seed gets a horrible draw. And the NCAA committee is instructed to pick the BEST teams for the tournament.

But I view it this way. You can either win an NCAA title by over-achieving in the regular season or over-achieving in the post-season.

No one wins the NCAA tournament without performing above expectations. If you look pre-tournament, no team is favored to win more than four games. But every year someone wins 6 games and over-achieves. Similarly, some teams over-achieve in the regular season. They earn surprising wins and earn better seeds, even though they have to squeak by with a series of close wins. But why condemn over-achievement in the regular season when we don’t condemn over-achievement in the tournament?

Louisville and Minnesota are under-achieving. That just means they have a harder road to post-season glory. It doesn’t mean they are bad teams.

Injury Splits, Part 1

Over the next two days, I’m going to talk about where injuries or suspensions may be skewing our evaluation of various teams. I won’t be talking about all of this year’s critical injuries. For example, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser, Missouri’s Michael Dixon, and Tennessee’s Jeronne Maymon have missed the entire season. While those injuries have clearly hurt their teams, because they didn’t play a minute this year, the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings for those teams accurately reflect their future expectations.

But when players are out for a period of time (like Duke’s Ryan Kelly), it can take awhile for the rankings to catch up. Duke is now playing worse basketball, and we may want to look at how much worse the Blue Devils are playing without Kelly.

Of course not every player who is injured matters. For that reason I focus on players who play at least half their team’s minutes. And often we are looking at very small samples. Random noise may certainly explain some of the deviations from the norm. But I do think it is informative to look at how teams have performed without their missing stars.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Duke

119.5

82.4

15

0

0.9785

Duke (without Ryan Kelly)

115.3

95.7

2

2

0.8719

           

Wyoming

111.0

88.1

10

0

0.9142

Wyoming (without Luke Martinez)

95.2

88.9

3

4

0.6685

           

Marquette

109.4

91.0

7

3

0.8685

Marquette (with Todd Mayo)

117.0

95.5

7

1

0.8889

A lot of smart folks have written about how Duke will be a much worse team without Ryan Kelly. I wasn’t quite as convinced because I happen to have high expectations for Duke’s Amile Jefferson. But through four games, the numbers are clearly worse without Kelly in the lineup. Duke’s offense has slid, and their defense has fallen off a cliff.

That’s probably too big a drop off to be permanent, and Duke’s horrific performance at Miami felt like a once-per-season collapse, not a permanent sign of bad things to come. But I think it is informative how Mike Krzyzewski is allocating playing time with Kelly out. While Amile Jefferson has seen his percentage of minutes increase from 21 percent to 58 percent in the four games Kelly has been out, the second biggest beneficiary of playing time is actually Mason Plumlee. And this worries me a little bit if I’m Duke. Plumlee has been playing 96 percent of Duke’s minutes since Ryan Kelly has been out, and Krzyzewski seems hesitant to ever take him out. I worry that all those minutes are having a negative impact on Plumlee’s energy level. Plumlee’s ORtg was 115 prior to Kelly going down, and has been just 95 in the four games since Kelly went down. Some of that is due to the tougher ACC defenses Plumlee has faced, but you have to wonder if the lack of rest time is hurting Plumlee’s overall performance.

However, I honestly think Duke may be better in the long-run if Kelly can come back. That’s because Jefferson has thrived as an offensive player now that he is getting more playing time. Jefferson has seen his ORtg increase from 104 before the Kelly injury to 119 after the injury. Now that he finally has a chance to get a rhythm in games, Jefferson is showing his offensive talents. If Jefferson can eventually improve his defense, his development will only be an asset for Duke come tournament time.

The second most important injury split in this column might be the Wyoming split listed above. Ever since Luke Martinez was suspended for his role in a bar room brawl, Wyoming’s offense has fallen off a cliff. You simply cannot lose such a potent scorer and expect to replace him with other rotation players. Larry Shyatt has done a masterful job keeping Wyoming playing elite defense without Martinez. And that defense will keep Wyoming competitive in the MWC this year. But Wyoming simply lacks offense without Martinez.

Lastly, Marquette’s offense has improved since Todd Mayo joined the team mid-semster. (Mayo was suspended for the first semester.) Mayo’s ORtg hasn’t been fantastic, but he has been aggressive and has attracted some offensive attention. The part I find more interesting is that Marquette’s defense has sagged since Mayo joined the team. In fact, in the last game against Providence, Mayo received an unusual DNP-Coach’s Decision.  Buzz Williams explained his decision not to play Mayo by saying he didn’t have anyone for Mayo to defend. But it certainly seemed puzzling for Mayo to go from over 20 minutes per game to riding the bench for a non-disciplinary reason.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Long Island

110.7

112.6

4

4

0.4571

Long Island (without Julian Boyd)

105.5

115.4

6

6

0.2857

           

Valparaiso

102.4

93.1

6

3

0.7254

Valparaiso (with LaVonte Dority)

107.5

96.6

9

2

0.7480

           

Wichita St.

109.1

89.1

9

1

0.8890

Wichita St. (since 3 players out)

109.2

86.3

10

1

0.9183

Long Island was the media’s pick for the NEC title this year because they returned almost their entire rotation from last year’s tournament team. But Long Island’s season was off to a disappointing start, and then super-scorer Julian Boyd went down. And while a recent winning streak has improved expectations somewhat, this remains a heart-breaking season for fans of the team.

Former South Florida guard LaVonte Dority joined Valparaiso mid-season, and the aggressive offensive player has helped boost the team’s overall performance. He is attracting a ton of attention and making his teammates better.

Finally, Gregg Marshall has to be a national coach-of-the-year candidate. He lost virtually his entire rotation to graduation, but in November and December his team continued to play at a very high level. Then on Dec. 20th he faced a situation where three of his key rotation players were out. Carl Hall, Ron Baker, and Evan Wessel were all injured and missing in action. And yet since that time, Wichita St. has actually played better basketball. Carl Hall has returned for the last four of those games, but Gregg Marshall’s ability to find new players and stick them in the lineup has been nothing short of amazing.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Missouri (Full Strength)

119.2

86.6

2

0

0.9638

Missouri (without Tony Criswell)

120.9

97.7

2

1

0.8988

Missouri (without Jabari Brown)

110.3

91.6

8

1

0.8703

Missouri (without Laurence Bowers)

107.5

94.8

3

2

0.7845

Arguably, Missouri has never been at full strength (since Michael Dixon left the team), but for two games in December they had everyone else active. They crushed South Carolina St. by 50 and beat an Illinois team that was playing well at that time.

The rest of the season has seen key player’s missing and the team’s performance has suffered because of it. Bowers injury has clearly been the worst, but Missouri wasn’t exactly playing elite basketball before Jabari Brown became eligible either.

I’m not going to show the Kentucky or Louisville splits (since I discussed those teams at length earlier), but surprisingly, their struggles cannot really be tied to Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury, Ryan Harrow’s early absence, or Gorgui Dieng’s absence.

Click here for Part 2: James Southerland, Greg Whittington, Taylor Braun, CJ McCollum, Mike Moser, Kris Dunn and more.

 

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