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How We'll Judge Basketball This Season

When trying to assess a basketball team, many people look at traditional data - points per game, rebounds per game, turnovers per game, et cetera. In a closed system wherein Baylor played Texas A&M every game for 30 games, those figures by themselves would be useful. However, the world of NCAA basketball doesn't occur in a vacuum, but in a dynamic system where Team A plays Team B, but not Team C, but Team C played Team D which played Team A but not Team B.

A useful way to judge teams against one another is through tempo-free statistics. 

It doesn't take a fool to sit down and watch Virginia Military Institute and Wisconsin play back to back and realize that VMI's goal is to shoot the ball as soon as they get it down the court, while Bo Ryan teaches a system that implores his players to look for the best possible shot at the last possible second, kind of like if Norman Dale suddenly came to the real world. The wild variation in styles that different teams play creates a sort of information assymetry where Wisconsin's 55 points per game may be far better than VMI's 80 points per game, because of the pace at which they play. Tempo-free statistics enable us to eliminate the differences in paces that teams play and determine how good their results are on a per possession basis.

If you read this and think we're crazy, a useful place to go learn more is the John of the Baptist of tempo-free statistics Ken Pomeroy's excellent site,, where he tracks this data on a daily basis. All of the numbers that I reference here are provided by Ken Pomeroy.

That said, the following is a primer on tempo-free statistics that we'll use this year to describe how Coach Drew's boys are doing. All figures are 2010-11 full season numbers. (As an aside, Baylor's coaching staff HIGHLY values tempo-free statistics and Ken Pomeroy's analysis in particular; they have retained him as a paid consultant for at least the last few seasons.)

Statistic NCAA Average Measures
Adjusted Tempo 66.65 possessions per game (adj. for opponent)
Adj. Off. Efficiency 101.27 points scored per 100 possessions (adj. for opponent) 
Adj. Def. Efficiency 102.18 points allowed per 100 possessions (adj. for opponent)
Pythag Record .475 expected winning % based on aOE and aDE
effective FG% 48.95% (FG+.5*3PT)/FGA
Turnover % 20.19% percentage of possessions ending in turnovers
Offensive Rebound % 32.09% percentage of own missed shots rebounded
FT Rate 37.81% FTA/FGA

Adjusted Tempo - this tool measures the pace at which teams play by looking at how many possessions each team has in each of their games, adjusted for opponent, from the slow (Wisconsin, 58.4) to the lightning fast (Alcorn St., 77.6).

Last year, Baylor's Adj. Tempo was 66.3, a tick slower than average (65.8 in 09-10, 66.6 in 08-09, 71.9 in 07-08). I'd expect us to play quicker this year based on our personnel, but don't expect us to approach the 71.9 number from the Jerrells/Dugat/Carter era.

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency - this tool measures how many points a team scores for every 100 times that it has the ball (adjusted for pace), from the super efficient (Ohio State, 125.6; Wisconsin, 123.3) to the hapless (Southern 79.8, Alcorn St., 83.1).

This statistic is a great way to look at the cognitive dissonance that results from looking at statistics without adjusting for tempo and opponent. You'll notice that Wisconsin played the slowest in basketball last year, but was incredibly efficient - their slow pace combined with their great efficiency resulted in them scoring 67.9 ppg. Alcorn St., on the other hand, played at a breakneck speed but did a very poor job turning opportunities into points, resulting in an average of only 65.5 ppg. Looking at those ppg figures in a vacuum, you'd assume that Wisconsin was only slightly better offensively than Alcorn St., when in reality the difference was greater than that between any other two teams.

Last season, Baylor's aOE was 106.2, about 5 points per 100 possessions better than average (120.4 in 09-10, 116.8 in 08-09, 117.6 in 07-08). If you were wondering how to quantify the loss of Tweety Carter's steady hand from the back court, we were about 10 points worse/100 last season that we'd been during the years that he was seeing big minutes. I would expect our aOE to climb back into the mid-110s this year if Pierre Jackson continues to be as good as advertised. Our forwards are the real deal, but we need the guard play on offense to help them succeed.

Adjusted Defensive Efficency - this tool measures how many points a team allows for every 100 times that its opponent has the ball (adjusted for pace), from the incredibly stingy (Florida St., 86.2; North Carolina, 88.5) to the extremely generous (Chicago St., 120.5; Delaware St., 112.5).

Here's another great example of how pace can confuse people when evaluating defense. Last year UNC gave up 68.8 ppg, while Delaware St. only gave up 65.6 ppg. Without adjusting for tempo, it would appear to the naked eye that UNC was worse on defense than Delaware St. In reality, UNC was one of the two best defenses in the country (they played at a really high pace, 71.7 (16th in the country), while Delaware St. was absolutely putrid, but their slow tempo (61.4, 334th in the country) masked their deficiencies.

Last season, Baylor's aDE was 96.6, about 6 points per 100 possessions better than average (91.7 in 09-10, 97.9 in 08-09, 97.8 in 07-08). While I think it is fair to question our offense from time to time, it appears that Coach Drew has figured defense out to a greater degree. That ridiculously great number in 09-10 shows you just how good of a college big Ekpe Udoh was. It doesn't seem crazy at all to suggest he was worth at least 5 points/100 possessions in the aggregate.

Pythag record - this tool uses aOE and aDE to estimate what a team's record "should be." It will be useful when we look at future matchups to know if an opponent has been on a string of bad luck, etc, if the eye test and numbers don't match up.

effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - eFG tells you how good a team is at converting shots into points. Normal field goal percentage lies to you a bit, because it doesn't give 3 point shots the proper credit. 3 points are riskier, yes, because they are taken further away from the basket, but the reward is also greater. In order to properly count 3 pointers, you give them double credit in the numerator (math dork alert, if you didn't need one about 1000 words ago). Great offensive teams typically have eFG% of around 53.0% of higher, whereas anything below 48.0% is going to get you beat a lot of nights. Great defensive teams typically have eFG% of 46.0% or lower, and anything around 50.0% or higher is trouble.

Last year Baylor's eFGs (offensive/defensive) were 51.4%/47.8% - not great, not terrible on either end. We were a pretty mediocre team last year, and the tempo free statistics reflect that. (Past seasons: 54.4%/44.4% in 09-10, 53.8%/49.3% in 08-09, 51.9%/48.3% in 07-09). Again, that defensive improvement in 09-10 shows you what a factor Ekpe Udoh was. I would expect to us to significantly improve our offensive eFG this year - early returns suggest that our ball movement is much better and our guards are involving themselves in the offense without turning the ball over and getting our bigs good shots. It's going to be hard to judge our defense until we start playing better competition and Coach Drew decides what kind of footprint (man vs. zone) this team will have defensively.

Turnover % - Turnover % is really simple: on what percentage of your team's possessions did you turn the ball over, or on what percentage of your team's defensive possessions did you force a turnover? Great offensive teams typically turn the ball over less than 18% of their trips down the court; really poor offensive teams turn it over 21% or more. Great defensive teams force turnovers on at least 23% of their opponents possessions, poor defensive teams only force turnovers 19% of the time or worse. The difference between great and poor here may seem really small, but in a game where each team has the ball 70 times, if you force 2 more turnovers than the average defense, and turn the ball over 2 fewer times, the net gain of 5 or so points is enough to swing the outcome in many games.

Last year, Baylor turned the ball over on 23.4% of its trips down the floor with the ball (!!!!!! so horrendously bad I don't want to talk about it any more), but did manage to force turnovers on 21.7% of its opponents trips (Past years: 20.2%/17.7% in 09-10, 17.9%/19.7% in 08-09, 17.0%/19.1% in 07-08). Let's hope last year was an anomaly and we get back to being average or a little better at protecting the ball. I always thought it was interesting that we improved at forcing turnovers with Ekpe graduating. Intuitively, it seemed to me that we'd have to take fewer risks since we didn't have that security blanket in the middle to change and block shots. Maybe the reason our aDE was worse was partially due to the fact that our wings and guards kept taking those risks on defense, but there was not an NBA caliber big in the paint if they didn't force a steal or bad pass.

Offensive Rebound % - Quite simply, this stat asks: how many of the shots that your team missed did you rebound, or how many of the shots that your opponent missed did you allow it to rebound? Good offensive rebounding teams typically grab 36% or more of their own misses, bad ones only rebound 31% or less. Good defensive rebounding teams only let their opponents grab 29% or less of their opponents misses, while bad defensive rebounding teams let their opponents rebound 33% or more of their misses. Talking heads spend a lot of time blabbing about how you have to limit the opponents' second shot opportunities and maximize your own in order to win games. That assertion is true, and this stat tracks it.

Last year, Baylor rebounded 35.7% of its misses, and Baylor opponents grabbed 30.6% of their misses (Past years: 38.2%/32.5% in 09-10, 31.5%/33.3% in 08-09, 32.1%/32.3% in 07-08). I think our net improvement here is a result of a) playing a lot of 2/3 zone defensively and b) becoming a long, wing/forward oriented team instead of a 3 or 4 guard team. I expect us to rebound the ball well this season.

FT Rate - This metric looks at how many free throws you/your opponent attempt as compared to field goals attempted. The implication here (and a cursory look at the national leaders) seems to suggest that if you pound the paint, you're going to do better here offensively, and if you have guys that struggle to stay out of foul trouble, your defensive numbers are going to be ugly. A good offensive FT rate is 41% or higher, a bad one is 33% or lower. A good defensive FT rate is 31% or lower, a bad one is 41% or higher.

Last year, Baylor's offensive FT rate was 42.6%; Baylor opponents managed a 35.3% FT rate (Past years: 36.1%/34.2% in 09-10, 38.5%/36.4% in 08-09, 35.9%/39.5% in 07-08). We have trended generally in the right direction both offensively and defensively in this metric the last few years. One would expect that given our focus on getting bigs the ball on offense this year, they're going to shoot a lot of free throws. We've never done a great job of keeping our opponents from getting to the free throw line, but I've got some blind hope that we'll get this fixed this season.