Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Exhibitionism Is Fun, But You Can't Do It Every Day

Norhtwestern blitzed Division II McKendree last Friday night in a preseason exhibition game at the Welsh. The ‘Cats won 102-52 in a 70-possession game. Looking at the tempo-free stats, confirms the obvious: NU played a much better game than the Bearcats.



NU scored at will, and McKendree, well, didn’t. The 'Cats shot lights out from the field, shared the ball, and also dominated the glass on both ends. They did almost everything well. Fans and commentators have been understandably impressed by the performance.

Unfortunately, that exuberance is perpetuating some flimsy narratives. Among them:

  • “Wow, NU scored 100 points! I can’t remember the last time that happened.”
  • “This is the most exciting team in a loooooong time!”
  • “NU hasn’t had this much firepower in years.”


Settle down, folks. Let’s start by remembering that the ‘Cats did this against a very bad D2 team. We can revisit this enthusiasm should they demolish a team with a pulse, say Butler or Northern Iowa or Michigan.

Yes, it has been a long time since an NU team scored triple digits. Over a decade, in fact. The last 100+ point game for the ‘Cats was on December 1, 1992, against University of Chicago (101-50). However, NU has scored in the 90s multiple times in recent years, most recently against UIC last year (93-58). In at least two games, Bill Carmody took shot clock violations rather than embarrass an opponent by posting 100+ points.

If you think this will be the most exciting NU team in a long time after one exhibition game, you’re vastly overrating the value of an exhibition game, AND you’ve likely seen about 2-3 seasons of NU hoops. In the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons, the ‘Cats posted top-25 offenses in AdjORtg. There are still guys on the roster from the 2011 and 2012 seasons, that's how loooooong ago it was.

Assuming NU has some real firepower this year, which is a bit of stretch based on an exhibition, you do have to go back years to find another NU team with significant firepower. Three whole years.

Think I’m being unfair? Check the stats from UIC last year (93-58, 69 possessions), as well as the 2011 and 2012 exhibitions against NAIA Robert Morris (91-71, 70 possessions, and 99-48, 69 possessions, respectively).




There are ample similarities amongst all these games. I think we can all agree that last year’s UIC game was an anomaly for a team that overall was great on defense and awful on offense. Those RMU exhibitions came against very good NAIA teams, and the NU teams those years happened to be offensive juggernauts and average to below-average defensive squads. My point is that we’ve seen NU games like the McKendree game recently, and some of those NU teams were good, but not all of them were. Don’t assume that this year's offense is set to be top-50 because it destroyed a bad team in an exhibition.

Back to the McKendree stats, there actually are a some concerns. The team’s TORate (21.43%) was much too high given the level of opponent. The team FT% (47.6%) was awful. Finally, McKendree hit threes at a very high percentage 40.9%). When I previewed the defense, I noted that NU’s phenomenal 3P% defense last season was lucky and that we should expect that number to increase this year. It’s just an exhibition, but McKendree demonstrated very well how that happens.

What about the players? Nobody had a bad game, but four guys in particular were extremely impressive: Bryant McIntosh, Alex Olah, Dave Sobolewski, and Tre Demps. Neither McIntosh nor Sobolewski missed a shot, and they were highly effective creating for their teammates. Mac had an AstRate of 56.05 and Sobo had 48.48! If you want to get excited about that, well I can’t argue. Olah was as dominant as you’d expect against a team with no one over 6-8 on the roster. Demps seems determined to shut my skepticism up. He was remarkably efficient.

Now the negatives. Vic Law, JerShon Cobb, Sanjay Lumpkin, Johnnie Vassar, and Jeremiah Kreisberg all turned the ball over at a TORate higher than 23% with A:TO below 1. Each of those guys, however, compensated with at least some of the following: good rebounding on at least one end of the court, decent shooting, steals, and blocks. Additionally, Law, Olah, Cobb, Kreisberg, Gavin Skelly, and Scottie Lindsey were bad from the line, all shooting 50% or less.

Here are the individual numbers.

Standard Box



Advanced Box – Offense



Advanced Box – Defense



Northwestern hosts Houston Baptist on Friday in its regular season opener. KenPom predicts a 78-57 NU win in a 68-possession game. I don’t expect it to be that close.



Obligatory Music Video

The Kinks - "Some Mother's Son"


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Previewish, Part 3: Nonconference Schedule

Northwestern sort of opens its season tomorrow night, hosting the McKendree something-or-others in an exhibition matchup, so I thought a look at the nonconference schedule might be worthwhile. (click the image below for a bigger view)


That’s a whole lot of bad teams. The plus side is that NU should win a lot of games. 10-3 with that schedule could be considered a bad showing. 13-0 isn’t out the question. With a team that will rely heavily on at least two freshmen and that will struggle to make the NIT bubble, winnable games are a top priority. The down side is that this is a pretty boring slate for fans. Georgia Tech is the only vaguely interesting home game, and nearly half of the games will only be viewable via streaming.

As for wins and losses, I think it’s safe to group these games into three groups: laughers, probables, and toss-ups.

Laughers

Houston Baptist, North Florida, Elon, Miami (OH), Mississippi Valley State, Central Michigan, UIC, Northern Kentucky

These opponents hardly need any discussion. They have been bad for at least the last three seasons and all project to be bad again this year. Obviously, NU could lose any of these games, but that’s highly unlikely. Projected record: 8-0.

Probables

Virginia Tech (possible opponent), Georgia Tech, Western Michigan

None of these teams projects to be even an NIT team, but they each could pull an upset if NU has a bad game. Virginia Tech has a great coach and would matchup with the ‘Cats on a neutral floor in the Cancun Challenge. Georgia Tech is an ACC team, but not a good one. Western Michigan isn’t horrible, I suppose. Projected record: 2-0 or 3-0 (depending on whether the ‘Cats face Virginia Tech or Northern Iowa in Cancun).

Toss-ups

Brown, Northern Iowa (possible opponent), Butler

Brown benefits from hosting NU, which could be enough of a boost for the Bears to upset the ‘Cats. Northern Iowa and Butler look to be right on NU’s level per the KenPom rankings. The ‘Cats could face Northern Iowa in Cancun and will visit Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse. NU will be the underdog in both matchups. Projected record: 1-1 or 1-2.

Final Tally

So I’ve got NU going either 12-1 or 11-2 against this pillow-soft schedule, which is basically what Pomeroy predicts. Even with a great nonconference performance like that, it will be very difficult to tell if the ‘Cats are a decent team until at least the second week of January. If they tear through most of the nonconference schedule, consistently blowing out their opponents, perhaps that would indicate they’re a good team. Anything worse than 10-3, though, and they may be in for a long, hard B1G season.


And another song...

The Buzzcocks - "What Do I Get?"


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Previewish, Part 2: Offense

If you read this blog with any regularity or follow me on Twitter, you already know that I am not a fan of what passed for Northwestern’s offense last season. It was consistently boring and inefficient. I can live with a boring offense that happens to be efficient, but what the ‘Cats were doing was torturous to watch. I’d probably be a happier person if I could just jump on the bandwagon and buy into the prevailing narratives that the 2013-14 season was exciting and a big leap forward. Alas, I am interested in reality, and to project the 2014-15 season (and beyond) it is extremely important to get real about last year’s offense. It wasn’t bad. It was historically, brutally abysmal. This is not opinion; it is fact. Let’s look at the context.

Last season the ‘Cats ranked 309th out of 351 teams in adjusted offensive efficiency with a rating of 96.3. That is by far the worst offense NU has put up since Kevin O’Neill’s post-Evan Eschmeyer team. In the KenPom.com data set (dating back to the 2001-2002 season), only eight major conference teams have posted an AdjO rating ranked over 300. That’s eight out of 495 total teams ranked 300+ in AdjO rating (2001-2014), or just 1.6%. It’s exceedingly rare for a major conference team to post an ORtg that bad. The good news is that every one of those teams got better offensively the following season. The bad news is that most of them didn’t improve very much. The worse news is that none of those other seven 300+ teams has made the NCAA tournament since its offensive nadir season. The worst news is that, of the 445 teams (167 schools) in that 300+ grouping from 2001-2013, only three went on to earn an NCAA at-large bid any time after appearing in the 300+ range. Each of those three at-large bids went to St. Mary's (2005, 2008, and 2013). So that's one program out of 167, or 0.6%. Yikes.



It was even worse in conference play where the ‘Cats’ offensive rating of 88.1 was the worst of any team from 2001-02 on. Most of those teams, even the ones that improved noticeably, were still bad offensively the next season.

10 Worst B1G Offenses (2002-2014)
Year
Team
Conference ORtg
Following Year
Conference ORtg
Change
2014
Northwestern
88.1
2015
--

2004
Penn St.
89.7
2005
91.8
2.1
2003
Penn St.
90.3
2004
89.7
-0.6
2007
Northwestern
90.5
2008
94.9
4.4
2002
Penn St.
90.5
2003
90.3
-0.2
2013
Penn St.
91
2014
100.1
9.1
2005
Penn St.
91.8
2006
101.9
10.1
2012
Nebraska
92.2
2013
92.7
0.5
2007
Minnesota
92.5
2008
101.9
9.4
2013
Nebraska
92.7
2014
99.4
6.7

Let’s consider the teams that improved more than 4 points per 100 possessions, focusing on the factors that spurred their improvement.

2008 Northwestern – From 2007 to 2008, NU’s 3P% jumped from 26.9 to 43.7. The main drivers of that increase were Craig Moore’s improvement at 3P% and the addition of Juice Thompson, who shot 43.3% from 3P. In spite of the improvement, the ‘Cats still finished 10th in offense in conference play.

2013 Penn St. – For a team to improve by 9.1 points per 100 possessions, a lot has to change, and that’s exactly what happened with last year’s Nittany Lions squad. The team featured a lower TO% and a higher OReb%. DJ Newbill & Brandon Taylor both got much better (especially in TO% and 3P%). Donovon Jack emerged as an offensive threat. And, most significantly, Tim Frazier returned after missing 2012 with an injury. Even with all those improvements, PSU was only 9th in offense in conference play.

2006 Penn St. – Like the 2013 PSU team, the 2006 edition improved in a number of areas. It forced more TOs (presumably leading to easy transition points) and had fewer of its own. Ben Luber went from 25.6 3P% (11 made) to 44.8% (39 made) and 36.3 eFG% to 54.1%. The addition of Jamelle Cornley also helped. The 2006 team finished 6th in offense in conference play.

2008 Minnesota – After 2007’s miserable performance, Tubby Smith replaced Jim Molinari and brought a major change in style of play. Tubby’s first team did a number of things that Molinari’s did not: they crashed the offensive glass, got to the foul line a higher clip, created for each other more, and made a big jump in both defensive Stl% and TO% to get fast, easy transition points. Like the 2006 PSU team, 2008 Minnesota jumped to 6th in the conference.

2014 Nebraska – The 2014 Huskers got two major additions in Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford to go along with a big jump in both ORtg and usage for Shavon Shields. The team got to the foul line at much higher rate than the 2013 group and made 71.7% of its FTs. Moreover Nebraska went from 314th nationally in tempo in 2013 to average in 2014. With all these improvements, the Huskers still finished only 10th in offense in conference play.

There are a few takeaways here. First, teams that post awful offensive efficiency numbers one season typically show some improvement the next season. Second, the teams that make major improvements are still average at best. Third, the teams that do get much better offensively tend to feature several changes among the following: at least one returning player shoots considerably better, at least one new player makes major positive offensive contributions, and the team makes major stylistic changes (e.g., hits the offensive glass, creates more turnovers, shares the ball more, plays at a different pace, gets to the foul line more, or collectively shoots better from 3P and/or FT).

Applied to the 2015 NU team this means that the offense should get better but likely won’t get significantly better. Even if it does get significantly better, the offense will still likely be bad. In order for the offense to get significantly better, players and coaches will have to get better. That’s a lot to ask in one offseason, but what follows are my thoughts on how the ‘Cats can make those improvements.


Coaching

It’s my observation that NU’s 2014 offensive struggles started with the coaching. The team featured three key players from the 2012 squad that finished 16th nationally and 4th in the B1G in offensive efficiency. Two of those players, Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski, posted the worst offensive ratings of their careers last season. That suggests that Chris Collins and his staff did not know how to use those guys effectively. Other commentators have pointed out that the offense created a lot of open shots that guys simply missed. That’s true, but it’s not a full story. The point of an effective offense is not to create open shots but to score points. More important than open shots are open shots for guys in spots where they can make them.

The shot charts below for NU’s top four players in FGAs last season indicate the offense did not succeed in getting guys shots in the right spots. Red indicates a high shooting percentage (relative to D1 average), blue indicates a low shooting percentage, and the size of the square grows with the shot volume from that area. Each player had good and bad areas of the court, and, with the exception of Olah, each player took a lot of shots from his bad area. A better offense would redistribute those shot locations to the players’ hot zones. (Aside: go check out Nylon Calculus’s shot chart tool. It’s amazing.)






Beyond tailoring shot locations to fit players’ strengths, if a team has trouble making the shots it does get, then it’s incumbent upon the coaches to look for alternative ways to generate points. Three ways to do that are hitting the offensive glass, emphasizing getting to the foul line, and generating turnovers (especially steals). Northwestern was not good at any of those things in 2014. (Read John Gasaway’s look at offensive rebounding for more info on just how bad NU was.) The good news is that teams can get better in those areas, if the coaches emphasize them. Collins has stated the team will try to force more turnovers this year, so that’s a start.

But back to those shots. NU took a lot of midrange 2P shots (see the charts below). Those are not good shots, even if they’re wide open, which more often than not they are not. They are not good shots, because they are low percentage shots and generate fewer P/FGA than either shots at the rim or 3P shots. In other words, they are inefficient shots. True, there are some players who excel in the midrange (Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, for example), but those guys are rare and truly elite players. The 2014 NU team had no one of that caliber. In fact, it had only one decent mid-range option: JerShon Cobb. I wrote somewhat extensively about this over at InsideNU, so I won’t repeat that analysis here. I will just say that if the 2015 team also features the midrange shot, then I am rather pessimistic about its offensive prospects.




The Players

For NU to get better on offense, it will need better performances from its players as well. Several of NU’s returning players have enough of a statistical record to allow for reasonable predictions: Tre Demps, Dave Sobolewski, Alex Olah, and JerShon Cobb. A couple of returning players do not: Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn. Jeremiah Kreisberg, the grad transfer from Yale, also has a sufficient statistical record. The remainder of the roster consists of freshmen, none of whom is the sort of truly elite player that one would expect to be a star in his first year. Nevertheless, NU will need big contributions from at least two of them to make offensive strides.

The Veterans

Tre Demps

It seems that I’m one of very NU observers not overly enamored of Demps. As noted in my InsideNU piece, Demps takes and misses a lot of midrange shots. There’s a narrative that has emerged surrounding Demps: he’s a clutch, dynamic scorer, perhaps even the best on the team, destined to flourish in Chris Collins’ wide open offense. If we are to judge Demps solely on what he’s done on the court in two seasons, then we should all be extremely worried if Demps is indeed the offensive centerpiece for the ‘Cats. Three things about Demps changed from his freshman year to his sophomore year: he played more minutes (from 46.7% up to 73.8%), he passed the ball on occasion (ARate from 11.8 to 19.9), and he got to the line more frequently (FTRate from 19.4 to 29.8). His shooting percentages from 2P (40.9% as a freshman, 41.4% last year) and 3P (34.0%, 34.3%) are virtually indistinguishable from one year to the next. His FT% declined in his sophomore season (from 73.3% to 68.0%) essentially negating the benefit of attempting more foul shots.

So here’s the thing about Tre. His game is so reliant on creating 2P shots off the dribble, that for him to become a more efficient scorer (which he absolutely must do if he’s going to be part of a successful offense), he needs to change his game in a very big way. I’ve asked two pillars of college basketball analytics for their take on guards who live by the midrange 2P shot. Their responses are pretty much the same.

Take 1: “I'd guess there isn't a lot of hope for an improvement in 2P% unless there's a brand new offensive system. It's more possible his 3P% could take a jump.”

Take 2: “Miracles can happen.”

Guys rarely make significant improvements in the midrange game over the course of a college career, though it’s not impossible. Russ Smith went from 37.9% to 45.8% to 51.7% from his sophomore through senior season, taking a high volume of shots each year. Juice Thompson went from averaging 44.1% his first three seasons to 53.4% his senior year even as his shot volume jumped. But those are two exceptional players who made remarkable improvements. Demps has been consistently below-average in 2P% over two seasons, averaging 41.2% compared to around 48% for the D1 average. For him to become an above average offensive player I believe he needs to shoot fewer midrange shots, focus more on getting to the rim or dishing to teammates, and work on improving his 3P shooting.

Based on what I saw during the intrasquad scrimmage on October 18, it doesn’t appear that Demps’ role and approach are changing. He looked great, for what it’s worth, but he posted similar stat lines multiple times last season. What he didn’t do last season was look that good consistently.

Dave Sobolewski

The other player over whom I seem to disagree most with other NU observers is Sobolewski. There’s no denying that his shooting has declined over three seasons. He was fantastic as a freshman when he was a low usage compliment to the highly efficient John Shurna, Drew Crawford, and Reggie Hearn. As a sophomore, his shot volume ballooned and his eFG% declined slightly (from 50% to 47.5%). Where he really struggled was at the line, going from 73.5% to 60.3%. Considering that Sobo is very good at getting to the line, the drop in FT% was enough to drag his ORtg down from 111.3 to 97.9.

Then there was last year. Dave’s foul shooting rebounded all the way to 76.1%, but his shooting from the field bottomed out. He posted career lows in 2P% and 3P% at 39.6% and 18.3%, respectively. I think there were a couple of interconnected problems at play there: the coaches were running offensive sets that did not fit Dave’s strengths, and Dave’s confidence dwindled the more he struggled. Sobo did get to the line at the highest rate of his career, and he dished out assists at the highest rate on the team, but he also turned the ball over more than he had his first two seasons.

With two freshman point guards, and with JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps potentially getting minutes at PG as well, it’s hard to figure where Sobolewski fits in. I think he still has value as a complimentary player. He’s a much better shooter than his numbers from last year indicate. He’s a smart player with good court vision. He’s tough and gets to the line at a high rate. What I saw during the scrimmage was him playing off-guard, and he did it quite well. If that’s his role this year, then I hope he embraces it and makes shots when his turn comes.

JerShon Cobb

Cobb has played 73 games over three seasons, and he’s still a bit of an enigma to me. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but he has been inconsistent and frequently injured. He set career highs in FT% (77.9), assist rate (18.1), and 3P% (35.2) last season, and he actually has the ability to excel in the midrange game. For this team to have a shot at the NIT (aim high!), I believe Cobb needs to be its best offensive player. He looked awful in the scrimmage, and he was strangely not featured much. I don’t read much into performances in a scrimmage, but I do think the way guys are used is instructive, and I was puzzled by Cobb’s role. At this point I have no idea what to expect.

Alex Olah

Olah was the lone bright spot on last year’s offense; the only player who showed significant improvement. He shot better from the line (58.3% to 68%), from 2P (43.2% to 54.5%), and from 3P (21.4% to 30.3%). He got to the foul line more frequently (32.8 FT/100 FGAs to 44.1). His usage rate went down (21.8% to 18.4%) and his ORtg went up (88.8 to 101.2). The only area where his offensive game declined was his assist rate (22.0 to 6.9), and that was primarily a product of not passing out of the high post like he did as a freshman.

This year I’d love to see Olah continue to improve from the line and 3P. I’d love to see him pass out of the high post some, because I think he can effectively feed NU’s athletic wings cutting to the basket. I’d also love to see him crash the offensive glass more. Much like Cobb, Olah didn’t seem to be featured much in the scrimmage. Unlike Cobb, Olah looked good in his role. I hope that he is featured more when the season starts. Last year Collins and his staff did a nice job developing Olah. I’m hopeful that he can grow into an efficient major contributor this season.

Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn

Both Lumpkin and Taphorn were bad offensive players last year (ORtgs of 82.0 and 72.6, respectively). Neither player shot well from any spot on the floor (FT%/2P%/3P% of 60.5/44.1/26.5 and 57.1/46.2/27.8). They both turned the ball over at a high rate (29.3 and 26.4). Neither of them dished out assists at any noticeable clip (9.3 and 7.1). The best things I can say are: Lumpkin was an OK offensive rebounder and was at least a very low usage player, and Taphorn didn’t play enough minutes to be a serious drain on the offense. So that’s last year.

Maybe things will be better this year. Both guys looked good in the scrimmage. Surprisingly, Lumpkin was the highest usage player on his side. He was quite aggressive and even hit a three. His ORtg was only 97.5, but that’s incredible considering he posted 82.0 last season. Taphorn, meanwhile, looked like the sharpshooter many expected him to be last season, going 2-3 from 3P in 16 minutes. He was low usage (9.5%) and high efficiency (205 ORtg), a great combo for a guy whose role projects to be that of spot-up shooter. Sanjay and Nate could be the wildcards for 2015. If one of them blossoms into a decent offensive contributor, that would be a huge plus. If they both do, then the team could be pretty good offensively.

Jeremiah Kreisberg

When all of NU’s 2014 big man targets committed elsewhere, it became obvious that the team would need an immediately-eligible transfer to back up Olah this year. While graduate transfers have become increasingly common, the recruiting market for them has also become very competitive. Landing a grad transfer who can contribute at all is very tough to do, and it appears that NU did just that. Kreisberg arrives from Yale (my other favorite team!) after missing the 2014 season with an injury. On the plus side his career shooting numbers are pretty good (72.5 FT%, 51 2P%, 22.2 3P%), and he’s a good rebounder. On the negative side, his efficiency has declined every year (99.3 as freshman down to 98.7 as a sophomore and 94.4 as a junior) and he turns the ball over a lot (about 24% career average).

His former teammate Justin Sears (the best player in the Ivy League) told me that Kreisberg has one of the highest basketball IQs of anyone he’s played with as well as a nice inside game and the ability to hit from the outside. With only 18 career 3PAs, it’s difficult to assess his range, but he has been relatively efficient inside and from the foul line. If he can give Olah 10-12 minutes of rest a game, make an occasional shot, and not turn the ball over, then Kreisberg will be a decent role player for this year’s squad.

The Freshmen

Chris Collins’ much ballyhooed first recruiting class is, on paper, one of the best in the past decade, and Vic Law is the highest-rated signee since probably Evan Eschmeyer. Northwestern needs major minutes and production from at least two of the five freshmen; that’s a lot to ask of a class that doesn’t feature any obvious immediate-impact players. My experience with these guys is limited to the grossly overblown hype (which I mostly ignore) and to the intrasquad scrimmage on October 18. All my subsequent comments will be based on that scrimmage, and as such should be taken with a many grains of salt.

Vic Law

Collins has likened Law to Johnny Dawkins at Duke in terms of importance to the program. Coach K said that Dawkins was a program turning recruit for him, which is silly considering Duke was an Elite 8 team the year before Coach K took over. At any rate, it’s obvious that Collins and staff view Law as the centerpiece of the near future of Northwestern basketball. Apparently Brian James has even stated publicly that Law will win B1G freshman of the year honors. That’s a lot to expect of a guy who only the top 10th-rated incoming B1G freshman (by 247Sports) and was the third-best player on his high school team last year.

Nevertheless, Law projects to play major minutes, and he could be a positive player for the ‘Cats. In the scrimmage he posted an ORtg of 90.3 on 22.2 usage (not good, even on last year's team) with an eFG% of 40 and a FT% of 50 (also not good). He posted a FTRate of 80 and an OReb% of 27.8 (both very good). He was extremely active, and hopefully he can consistently corral that percentage of offensive rebounds, because I think he’s going to struggle to score against average and above B1G defenders.

Bryant McIntosh

McIntosh seems to have the starting PG slot nailed down, and that appears to be a good thing. He was able to drive at will in the scrimmage, and even though he sometimes generated nothing on his drives, he managed not to turn the ball over. He didn’t shoot well (2-4 2P, 0-2 3P, 33.3 eFG%) but with a 40% ARate (a scrimmage-high four assists!) on 18.5 usage, Bryant turned in a very respectable 110.3 ORtg. I don’t think he’ll go 0-fer from 3P often, and maybe he’ll even get to the line on occasion, so his scoring efficiency should be better over the course of a full season. NU probably needs McIntosh to be a scorer on top of a distributor this year.

Johnny Vassar

Like McIntosh, Vassar showed the ability to break down defenders off the dribble. Unlike McIntosh, Vassar was highly inefficient. His drives often went nowhere, and he dished out 1 assist to 2 turnovers. He missed all his FGAs, and put up an ORtg of 55.7 on a scrimmage-high usage rate of 30.5 (Demps was at 26.6). Vassar appears to be in line to be McIntosh’s backup, and that should give NU fans some concern. Right now, he doesn’t appear to have the decision making ability (or the finishing ability) to match up with B1G defenses. No doubt, his comfort level with the offense and his teammates should improve, and he will surely benefit from NU’s pillow-soft nonconference schedule. Again, it’s a small sample early in his freshman year, but based solely on the scrimmage Vassar does not look ready to be an offensive contributor.

Scottie Lindsey

Lindsey posted an 84.7 ORtg on 21.8 usage in the scrimmage. That’s not good. It appears that a high TORate (21.2) coupled with pedestrian shooting (0-1 2P, 1-2 3P, 2-4 FT) led to that low rating. I have no idea what to expect from Lindsey this year. He looks like he’ll get some minutes, but his contribution may be more on the defensive end at this point.

Gavin Skelly

Skelly played 7 minutes in the scrimmage. The only guy who played fewer minutes was Nick Segura, the walk-on. In those minutes, Skelly looked wholly unready to play. I don’t expect any meaningful contribution from him this year.


Team Offense in the Scrimmage

The Purple team (Law, Kreisberg, Vassar, Demps, Lindsey, and Taphorn) defeated the White team (McIntosh, Cobb, Sobolewski, Olah, Lumpkin, Skelly, Segura) 34-30 in a 20-minute, 34-possession half game. That’s ORtgs of 100 for Purple and 88 for White, both well below the D1 average last season. The good news: both teams shot considerably better than last years’ squad and were above last year’s D1 average (52.17 eFG% & 50 3P% for Purple, 51.85 & 36.4 for White, compared to 46.1 & 30.7 last season). The bad news: they both turned the ball over a lot (23.53 TO% for both sides, compared to 17.3 for NU last year), and both sides were awful at the foul line. What does this mean for the regular season? No clue, but hopefully the good shooting from the field holds up while the turnovers go down.


Scoring Efficiency





Purple
White
2014 NU Off
2014 NU Def
2014 D-I Avg
PPP
1.00
0.88
0.96
0.94
1.04
P/FGA
1.48
1.11
-
-
-
TS%
53.88%
50.25%
-
-
-






Four Factors





Purple
White
2014 NU Off
2014 NU Def
2014 D-I Avg
eFG%
52.17%
51.85%
46.10%
45.90%
49.60%
TO%
23.53%
23.53%
17.30%
16.40%
18.30%
OReb%
37.50%
23.53%
22.50%
30.60%
31.40%
FTA/FGA
78.26
22.22
35.50
38.00
40.50






Misc. Components





Purple
White
2014 NU Off
2014 NU Def
2014 D-I Avg
3P%
50.00%
36.36%
30.70%
31.50%
34.50%
2P%
40.00%
50.00%
46.10%
45.30%
48.50%
FT%
55.56%
33.33%
70.00%
66.20%
69.90%
Block%
6.67%
12.50%
13.90%
9.60%
9.70%
Steal%
11.76%
14.71%
9.70%
6.90%
9.00%






Style Components





Purple
White
2014 NU Off
2014 NU Def
2014 D-I Avg
3PA/FGA
34.78
40.74
42.10
30.40
32.90
A/FGM
50.00
75.00
54.70
55.80
51.80






Point Distribution





Purple
White
2014 NU Off
2014 NU Def
2014 D-I Avg
3-Pts
35.29%
40.00%
33.10%
24.50%
26.70%
2-Pts
35.29%
53.33%
45.60%
53.90%
51.10%
FTs
29.41%
6.67%
21.20%
21.50%
22.20%


The Ken Pomeroy Projection

Between when I started this post and now, Ken Pomeroy (whose work I greatly respect and on which much of what I do here is founded) posted his 2014-15 projections*. His forecast sees a huge jump in offensive efficiency for NU, all the way up to 104.4 in AdjORtg and 116th in the country. That would have been average last year. It would also be a nearly-unprecedented jump for a major conference team not changing systems. I asked Ken about what accounted for this leap, and his response was:

“I suspect it’s mostly the idea that few (any?) Big Ten teams have ever had an offense as bad as Northwestern last season. One could expect massive improvement based on that alone. But also, teams with such a disparity in offense and defense tend to see that even out the following season.”

I passed along the data I had gathered on major conference teams with 300+ ranked offenses and their subsequent performances (that big table back at the start of this post), to which Ken responded:

“It looks like my system is a little too optimistic about Northwestern based on this, though I’d love to see how teams with a bad offense/awesome defense fared.”

So here’s a look at teams with bad offenses (greater than -1 StDev from the D1 mean) and great defenses (greater than -1 StDev from the D1 mean) and how they did the next year. The lighter colors are the bad offense/great defense years, and the darker colors are years subsequent.



Saint Peter's and Savannah St. each had back-to-back bad O/great D years followed by bad O/ok-or-bad D years. Only Illinois St. (2007), St. Louis (2003), and USC (2013) improved to average offensively, although nearly all teams got better in the follow-up years. Defensively nearly all teams regressed to less than -1 StDev below the D1 mean, but they were are better than average save for Saint Peter's (2012).

Ultimately, I think Pomeroy’s model is much too optimistic about NU’s offense. It’s not impossible that the offense will improve greatly, just highly unlikely. NU would need near-best-case-scenario performances from many guys (in order of importance): McIntosh, Olah, Cobb, Demps, Law, Lumpkin, Sobolewski, and Taphorn. I don’t see that happening. 2015 looks like another rough year on the offensive end.

[*You can read about how his projections work here. In brief: the recent past matters both for team (so the good NU offenses of Carmody’s late years are counted) and individual performance (so Sobolewski’s awful 2014 is counter-balanced by his better 2012-2013 seasons), and freshman don’t matter much.]


And here's a song a like...

Soft Boys - "I Wanna Destroy You"