Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An Irregular End to the Regular Season

NU closed out the regular season on Sunday with a 74-65 (68 possessions) road win over last-place Purdue and did so in somewhat of an unusual fashion.


Scoring Efficiency


NU
Purdue
PPP
1.09
0.96
P/FGA
1.45
1.10
TS%
55.10%
46.48%



Four Factors


NU
Purdue
eFG%
48.04%
38.98%
TO%
8.82%
16.18%
OReb%
14.29%
33.33%
FTA/FGA
66.67
38.98


NU’s PPP was well above its average (0.935) and was its 2nd-highest in B1G play. In fact, NU scored more PPP in this game than it had in all but five of its previous 30 games). For the worst major-conference offense, this showing was downright explosive. Why?

The ‘Cats shot better from the field than they typically do, but that 48.04 eFG% was still below average for a D1 team in 2014. The OReb% was terrible even for the 4th-worst offensive rebounding team in D1 (yes, NU is 348th of 351 D1 teams in OReb%). What NU did right was not turning the ball over and getting to the foul line a lot.

That FTRate of 66.67 was NU’s 2nd-highest of the season. You have to go back the opening game of the season to find a higher FTRate. I realize that Purdue had to foul down the stretch, a fact that inflated NU’s FTAs. No matter. The point I want to make is that when you are a team that has great difficulty creating high percentage FGAs on offense, as NU clearly does, one way to make up for that is to get to the foul line. NU’s 1.45 P/FGA against Purdue was its highest in the conference slate, and it was due primarily to Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski combining to go 21-for-22 from the foul line.


Sobolewski Rising

Speaking of Sobolewski, take a look at the individual defensive ratings for this game. This is only for players who played 20+ minutes.

Dave Sobolewski
84
Drew Crawford
92
Alex Olah
97
Kale Abrahamson
99
Tre Demps
104
Sanjay Lumpkin
104

The lower the number, the better the performance. This rating comes from Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper, and you can read a bit more about it at Basketball Reference. It has some shortcomings in that it tends to assume more or less equal responsibility for defensive factors that are not easily attributed to individual players, but it is still worthwhile.

Turns out Dave had the biggest defensive impact in this game. Combine that with his 2nd-best offensive rating (132 to Crawford’s 142), and this is easily his best B1G of the year. I’m an unabashed fan of Sobolewski, but there’s no getting around the fact that he’s had a miserable year on the court. I hate to see Wildcat players struggle, so it was awesome that he had a great game to close out the regular season.


Consistently Inconsistent

Drew Crawford bounced back from an abysmal senior night to post his most efficient game of the B1G season. Like Sobolewski, I love Crawford (so much that I called him perhaps the best all-around ‘Cat of thepast two decades earlier this season). It pained me to see him struggle so much against Penn State, and I delighted to watch him dominate the Boilermakers on their home court.

The biggest knock on Crawford is that he’s an inconsistent player. I find myself bristling when others say that about him, but there’s something to it. Here’s his ORtg for each game of this B1G season.

Opponent
Result
Location
ORtg
Wisconsin
L, 76-49
H
90
Michigan
L, 74-51
A
86
Iowa
L, 93-67
A
76
Illinois
W, 49-43
H
89
Michigan St.
L, 54-40
H
50
Indiana
W, 54-47
A
107
Purdue
W, 63-60
H
79
Iowa
L, 76-50
H
108
Wisconsin
W, 65-56
A
121
Minnesota
W, 55-54
A
127
Nebraska
L, 53-49
H
69
Michigan St.
L, 85-70
A
103
Minnesota
L, 54-48
H
25
Ohio St.
L, 76-60
A
123
Indiana
L, 61-56
H
101
Nebraska
L, 54-47
A
67
Penn St.
L, 59-32
H
51
Purdue
W, 74-65
A
142

I think there’s a larger study to be done over his career, which I plan to do in the off-season, but the data set above indicates that he is indeed inconsistent.


The Return of Luck

Earlier in the season I wrote about NU’sbetter-than-average luck, particularly with respect to 3P%. That luck leveled out quite a bit during the ‘Cats seven-game skid. Against Purdue, however, NU got a nice boost from the Boilermakers’ well-below-average 3P%. On the season, Purdue averages 32.95% beyond the arc; against NU it shot an execrable 22.22%. That showing cost the Boilermakers about six points off of their average shooting. Here’s the updated 3P% lucky/unlucky graph.





Cool Story, Bro

Oh, the narratives swirling about this team are abundant and often amusing but rarely accurate. There’s a long post down the line devoted solely to the narratives, but I want to address a couple that I heard in the wake of this game. I’m paraphrasing.

“Winning on the road on your opponent’s senior night is a huge accomplishment.”

Five teams pulled this off in the B1G this season: Northwestern (at Purdue), Illinois (at Iowa), Penn State (at Northwestern), Nebraska (at Indiana) and Michigan (at Illinois). That’s a 41.67% winning percentage for road teams on senior nights. During the conference season road teams won 42.6% of the time. So, winning on your opponent’s senior night is no more difficult than winning any other road game in the B1G.

“Winning six B1G games with this roster is amazing.”

KenPom.com projected NU to be 6-12 in conference and 14-17 overall before the season. The ‘Cats finished 6-12 and 13-18. KenPom.com also projected the ‘Cats to be the 87th-best team in D1. They finished 147th. This team returned three highly experienced and capable players in Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, and JerShon Cobb. Crawford and Sobolewski each posted the worst years of their respective careers. Cobb improved on his injury-shortened sophomore campaign but failed to equal his freshman season.

The defensive performance of this bunch was inspiring but the offense was insipid. Credit is due to the coaches for the defensive improvement. Blame is equally due to the coaches for the offensive shitshow. They produced the worst B1G offense of the KenPom era and the 319th-ranked offense in all of D1 (that’s out of 351 teams!). That is unacceptable. The lack of adjustments, the lack of imagination, and the utter inability to adapt to the team’s personnel kept this team from an NIT bid at the least. The record may have been right around a reasonable expectation, but the actual performance was a major disappointment. Chris Collins didn’t inherit a roster of D2 JV players, and he didn’t over-perform.


Indy Bound

With their 11th-place finish, the ‘Cats have drawn the Iowa Hawkeyes as their 1st-round opponent in the B1G Tourney. There are twin narratives at play here. “Northwestern has momentum coming off its huge road win over last-place Purdue”, and “Iowa is trending down, having lost five of its last six games”. If you believe in such things (and you probably shouldn’t), you might feel pretty good about NU’s chances tomorrow. I’d like to point out that Iowa is still the 18th-ranked team per KenPom.com, that Iowa twice blitzkreiged NU by 26 points, and that Iowa is favored by KenPom.com 72-61 in this game. So I’ll be in Indy, decked out in purple and cheering on the ‘Cats, but my hopes for winning a single game, much less four in four days, are not high. There’s always next year, right?

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