Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Offensive...Indeed

NU beat Rutgers 51-47 in an ugly 62 possession game today. The ‘Cats turned the ball over a lot, grabbed just three offensive rebounds, went over 10 minutes without scoring (from 10:45 to 0:30 in the second half NU was stuck on 44), and still won because Rutgers is really bad. The Scarlet Knights took bad shots, missed most of them, and horribly mismanaged the endgame. Take the win, and take a look at the ugly numbers. This does not give me confidence for NU’s chances in the next 5-6 games.





Enter the B1G if You Must

Northwestern closed out its nonconference schedule 9-4. I had hoped for 10-3 or better, so that finish is a bit disappointing. The offense has improved a bit over 2014 (team ORtg of 99.5/185th in D1 up from 96.3/309th) while the defense has regressed (team DRtg of 97.4/108th in D1 down from 94.2/14th), leaving the ‘Cats at 137th in the Pomeroy rankings, 17 slots lower than last year’s squad was at the opening of B1G play. NU enters conference play ranked 13th in the conference.

The good news is that the B1G looks much softer this year. The bad news is that so does NU.  More good news is that of the top 5 teams in the B1G (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland, and Minnesota), NU only has to play Wisconsin and MSU twice. More bad news is that NU plays its most beatable opponent, Rutgers, only once and on the road. KenPom.com projects a 5-13 record in conference play with the likeliest wins being: Purdue (home), Penn State (home), Michigan (home), Rutgers (road), Indiana (home), Illinois (home), and Iowa (home). Pomeroy’s projections give NU at least at 37% chance in each of those games, but NU’s maximum win probability in any of those games is still only 51%. The rest of the schedule is much less amenable. This means the ‘Cats are poised to secure the first 13th or 14th place finish in B1G history. (See Carmody Court for more on this.)

Nevertheless, there are ways that NU could improve in conference play and make a push for the CBI or even the NIT. Opportunities exist on both ends of the court to make stylistic adjustments that would boost the ‘Cats’ chances to play winning basketball.


Defense


NU does two things well on defense: it holds opponents to a low eFG% (90th in D1) and keeps them off the offensive glass (43rd in D1). Despite being slightly better in raw terms, that eFG% ranks lower than 2014 when the ‘Cats were 38th nationally. The defensive rebounding is up in raw terms and in ranking from 134th in 2014. Beyond that, NU is slightly above average in its defensive free throw rate and well below average in forcing turnovers just like in 2014.



In 2014 the ‘Cats were extremely lucky in both 3P% and FT% defense, ranking 41st and 24th nationally, respectively. Their FT% luck has extended into 2015 ranking 34th nationally; that may not hold up in conference play as all of NU’s opponents save for MSU and Minnesota are average or above in FT%. The ‘Cats’ 3P% defense luck, however, has run out. NU now ranks 248th nationally compared to 2014. NU benefited greatly from defensive 3P% luck in 5 of its 6 B1G wins in 2014 (where its opponents shot 10% points or more lower than their season averages); that seems unlikely to happen again in 2015. So, then, what to do?

Play More Zone

Or play any zone for that matter. NU is terrible at getting steals, ranking 345th out of 351 teams. Adding a 2-3 or 1-3-1 to the defensive arsenal would generate more steals which would generate easy points (when I get to the offensive section of this post you’ll see how). Yes, there is the obvious risk of giving up more offensive rebounds, but the correlation between steal rate and opponents’ OReb% is slight, and I suspect the trade-off would be worth it.



Another benefit of mixing in more zone defense would be keeping Alex Olah in the paint where he is much more effective. With rangy, athletic forwards like Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Nate Taphorn, and Gavin Skelly, NU could better neutralize bigs who play on the perimeter than it currently does with Olah stepping outside in its man defense.

Beyond playing more zone, NU’s best chances for defensive improvement in conference play depend on better individual play (proper position & footwork, especially staying in front of ball handlers, and better reaction time on rotations) which is conceivably possible, as well as improved luck in defensive 3P% and continued luck in defensive FT% both of which seem unlikely. The ‘Cats are already excellent in 2P% defense, ranking 37th nationally, so improvement in that area also seems unlikely. In any case the chances for defensive improvement without some degree of strategic or stylistic shift are slight.


Offense

There is good news about NU’s offense in 2015. Through the nonconference slate, NU’s AdjO rating is 99.6 which is virtually equivalent to the D1 average of 100.0 and ranked 182nd nationally. That is far better than 2014’s numbers of 96.3 (against an average of 104.3) and 309th. There’s also some bad news. This year’s nonconference strength of schedule is 334th compared to 271st last year, so NU’s offensive improvement has come at the expense of some rancid teams. While I understand that AdjO rating does compensate for level of competition, attempting to project a team’s offensive efficiency against an average D1 opponent, NU won’t be facing average competition in B1G play.


  
The ‘Cats have beaten one team with a KenPom overall ranking better than any B1G team: Western Michigan is ranked slightly higher than Rutgers. Furthermore, the ‘Cats have beaten one team with an AdjD ranking better than any B1G team: Elon is ranked higher than Indiana. So while the B1G might be considerably worse overall than in the recent past, NU has struggled offensively against comparable nonconference competition.  Why is that?


Poor Shot Selection

While NU is an average 2P% shooting team at this point, it still takes far too many 2P jump shots and shoots very poorly when it does. The fact that NU hits more of its 3P shots than its 2P jumpers should be all the evidence necessary for the coaches to direct players not to shoot that damned 2P jumper.




On an individual basis, only Lumpkin and Taphorn are good 2P% jump shooters, and they only have a combined 8 attempts. Meanwhile, NU’s top four players in terms of FGAs (Tre Demps, Bryant McIntosh, Olah, and Law) have combined to take 182 2P jumpers making just 32.95% of those shots. Yuck. That has to stop. Of particular concern to me is the baseline jumper that Olah often gets off the pick and roll. That’s obviously a designed option in the offense, and it’s awful.





Meanwhile, every player with at least 10 FGAs is hitting over 50% at the rim.




Additionally, there are five ‘Cats hitting 39% or better behind the arc.



If NU embraced the Houston Rockets’ approach and emphasized the 3P shot (with its best shooters, of course) and shots at the rim, it could greatly improve its offensive efficiency. That would require at least one more major change.


Shot Distribution & Minutes Distribution

Demps needs to play fewer minutes and take fewer shots. He is second in minutes and first in FGAs on the team fourth in ORtg of the five highest minutes regulars. He is a major drag on the team’s offensive efficiency. Chris Collins would do well to give more of Demps’s minutes (and shots) to Lindsey, Taphorn, and Lumpkin.



In addition to drastically cutting down on his midrange jumpers, Law should not be taking 3P shots. Neither should Demps, but as noted before I’d be thrilled if his attempts dwindled dramatically.


Tempo

I did not think I would say this, but NU needs to push the ball up the court more. Turns out that NU has the highest eFG% in the B1G on fast breaks coming from steals but the lowest percentage of it FGAs come off of steals. This links back to my suggestion that NU should play more zone and generate more turnovers.



Furthermore, NU needs to look for shots earlier in the clock. Only 12.4% of its FGAs come in the last 5 seconds of the shot clock, but it also hits only 33.5% of them in eFG%.


Crash the Offensive Glass

Outside of transition, NU’s best shooting comes on putbacks. Why not let the ball fly from 3P and send guys like Olah, Law, Lumpkin, and Taphorn hard to the glass?


Overview

The KenPom projection of 5-13 seems about right, but without some of the above adjustments I forecast 4-14 and 13th place tie with Rutgers. In its next five games, NU is 93% likely to go anywhere from 0-5 to 2-3. I’ll go with 1-4.



Monday, December 15, 2014

Evisceration

Last night Northwestern obliterated Mississippi Valley State 101-49 in a game that was as unwatchable as it was lopsided. Some folks might enjoy watching a 40 minute live execution perpetrated by a lion on a crippled lamb, but I’m not one of them. For me, there was no more value in that game than there was in the exhibition against McKendree.

The most interesting developments were (mostly) off the court: JerShon Cobb sat out with a boot on his right foot, and Jeremiah Kreisberg played only four minutes. The nature and severity of Cobb’s lower-body injury (looking at you Fitz and Paul Kennedy) are unknown to me as is the length of time he’s expected to miss. I like Cobb, and I wish him nothing but health and success, but you can argue that NU would be better off with Scottie Lindsey, Nathan Taphorn, Johnnie Vassar, and/or Dave Sobolewski getting his minutes. On this year's team, only Kreisberg has struggled more than Cobb. The fact that Kreisberg played walk-on minutes in a non-contest bodes poorly for his role the rest of the year.

I know most people are probably most excited by the fact that the ‘Cats broke the century mark, but I prefer tempo-free efficiency-based analysis. In that context, how good was NU’s offense last night? NU’s 131.7 offensive efficiency rating was only the 3rd-highest rating MVSU has allowed this year, but it was still extremely good. Here’s some broader context:
  • In the past decade, NU has posted an offensive efficiency greater than or equal to 120 (or 1.2 points/possession) in 46 games.
  • NU has won 44 of those games, only losing twice, 85-82 to KenPom-ranked #29 Indiana in 2008 and 75-73 to #2 Ohio State in 2012.
  • 32 of those games were at home, 11 were on the road, and 3 were on neutral courts.
  • In that span the ‘Cats have actually posted a higher efficiency rating than last night's 131.7 13 times, four times against top-100 teams, and only twice against 300+ teams.
  • MVSU appears on that list four times (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) with this year’s team at 349 of 351 in the KenPom rankings being the absolute worst team NU has played in the past decade.
  • Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin all appear on that list.
  • Indiana makes the most appearances of any school with five.
  • Other power conference teams on the list: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Seton Hall.
  • The Boston College game was a road NIT win for the 2011 squad, arguably the best NU team since the 1931 national champions.
  • The best team that NU beat on the list was #3 Michigan State in 2012.
  • Last night’s 63.9 defensive efficiency rating was the 2nd-best on the list of offensive explosions, coming in slightly behind the 61 NU posted against Central Arkansas in 2009.
  • Speaking of defense, that 63.9 was also the 6th-best defensive performance by an NU team in the past decade regardless of offensive efficiency. The top five were: 53.8 vs TCU in 2013, 57.2 Western Michigan 2014, 61 Central Arkansas 2009, 61.8 DePaul 2009, and 61.9 Texas Pan-American.



What does all this mean?

Nothing for this year. NU beat the shit out of a terrible team that would likely lose to Oak Hill Academy, Monteverde Academy, and a host of other elite high school teams. I’m sure the players and most fans had a blast. The next two games, however, against Central and Western Michigan project to be real challenges. KenPom favors NU 67-60 and 67-63, respectively, in those games.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Death By Midrange

My comrades over at Carmody Court noted this week that NU’s offense has gotten better this year, but that it’s still pretty bad. Last season’s AdjO rating was 96.3 (the D1 average was 104.3). Through eight games, this season’s AdjO rating is 98.0 (the D1 average is 99.6). On a points per 100 possessions basis, NU’s improvement is barely perceptible. Relative to the D1 average it’s actually a nice jump. Either way, though, it’s still well below average and the worst in the B1G. Why?

I’ve put together a little table examining the scoring efficiency of NU’s top six players. JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Bryant McIntosh, and Alex Olah combine to play 82.1% of NU’s minutes and to take 85.6% of its FGAs. They are going to make or break the ‘Cats' scoring efficiency most games. A quick explanation of the values in the table:

  • %FGA is the percentage of the team’s total FG attempts that a player has taken. It’s different from KenPom’s %Shots in that it doesn’t factor in a player’s minutes.
  • FTRate is the number of FTAs a player takes per 100 FGAs. It’s a good measure of how effectively a player gets to the foul line.
  • P/2PA is the number of points a player scores from made free throws and made 2P shots divided by his total 2P attempts. It’s a good measure of how efficiently a player scores inside the 3P-line.
  • P/FGA is the total number of points a player scores divided by his total FG attempts. It’s a good measure for how efficiently a player scores overall.
  • FT%, 2P%, and 3P% are self-explanatory, I hope.
  • eFG% is [(1.5*3PM) + 2PM]/FGA, though this should be self-explanatory to most readers by now. It takes into account the fact that a made 3P shot is more valuable than a made 2P shot.
  • TS% “is [John] Gasaway’s old PPWS divided by 2. It’s like eFG%, but throws in trips to the line and converts it to a shooting percentage that approximates what 2-point percentage a player would need to have to score the points he produces on all of his shooting attempts.” (via KenPom)

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at the numbers.




The first thing that jumps out to me is that Sanjay Lumpkin has been the ‘Cats’ best all-around shooter and most efficient scorer, but that he is getting by far the fewest shots of the six regulars. His high FTRate, FT%, and 2P% make him extremely efficient inside the arc. He’s averaging more than two points per 2PA!! He’s no slouch behind the arc, though he’s only got 10 3PAs. It’s fairly well established that players will plateau in their scoring efficiency as their shot attempts increase, so Lumpkin surely would not keep up the same pace if his %FGA increased dramatically. Nevertheless, given NU’s scoring woes and his impressive production so far, Lumpkin merits more looks and touches, doesn’t he?

The next thing is that Vic Law and Alex Olah have both been reasonable inside options. They each get to the line at an above-average clip (D1 average is 37.8) and convert their foul shots at a decent rate (Law especially so). Law’s overall P/FGA is dragged down by poor 3P shooting (5 of 20), while Olah’s is bolstered by his ability to hit the 3P shot at 50% (on only 8 3PAs, though). Olah needs to be NU’s primary scoring option, and Law needs keep getting to the rim. They both shoot far too many midrange shots, right around 39% of their FGAs, with Olah making a paltry 20.8% and Law hitting 40.9%.

Finally, NU’s top three guards are all struggling to score efficiently. Tre Demps’s high usage/low efficiency status is well known, and JerShon Cobb’s struggles this season have generated a lot of discussion, but Bryant McIntosh seems to get a pass due to his solid ARate. It’s worth pointing out here, that on a P/FGA basis, the three guards are virtually identical. Cobb is the best of the three inside the arc (measured by P/2PA), due largely to his high FT%, while McIntosh is the best outside the arc. Considering that Demps and McIntosh are 1st and 2nd in %FGA, respectively, but 4th and 5th in P/FGA, perhaps they’re both shooting too much. McIntosh shoots well from the foul line, but he hardly gets there (1.125 FTA/game). Neither of them is particularly good anywhere else. Altogether, these three hoist nearly 50% of the ‘Cats’ shots.



(data from Hoop-Math.com

It looks more disconcerting when you break down their 2P shots into shots at the rim and midrange shots. They all take a lot of midrange shots, with McIntosh in the lead. He takes almost half of all his shots from midrange. None of them shoots well from midrange, with Demps’s 20% being the worst. Also of note, not a one of Demps’s made midrange shots was assisted, so at least he can create his own shot. In Demps’s defense, he is the best at scoring at the rim, and more often than not does that on his own. Nevertheless, these numbers scream “poor shot selection.” Whether that’s a result of poorly designed/executed strategy or bad decisions (I think it’s likely a mixture of both), it needs to change. Unless this trio gets a lot better at shooting, via better selection or improved percentages, or it takes a lot fewer shots, NU is going to struggle to score.

In light of my analysis, I believe the best path to offensive improvement looks like this:

  • Feed Olah in the post, with Olah going aggressively to the rim, seeking contact. Drastically cut down Olah’s shots outside the lane, particularly the baseline jumper off of the pick and roll. Look for the pick and pop 3P shot for Olah 3-4 times a game.
  • Get Law shots going to the basket, whether on cuts or off the dribble, with Law seeking contact. As with Olah, severely cut back Law's midrange shots.
  • Get Lumpkin more touches.
  • Virtually eliminate the midrange shot for the top three guards.
  • Pray that one of the reserves steps up. Lindsey seems the most likely candidate, but his playing time has been extremely scarce.
  • Generate offense off of defense. The ‘Cats are dead last in D1 in steal% and only 13.2% of their FGAs come in transition.
  • Emphasize offensive rebounding. NU currently ranks 281st in OReb%.

That’s a lot to ask and would require some strategic adjustments to the offense and the defense. The road is going to get a lot tougher starting in January. Expect the offense to get worse, not better, as the season drags on.



Ex Hex - "Waterfall"


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sometimes A Win Isn't A Win

Northwestern has now played approximately 20% of its basketball season. It has won five games and dropped one against the 36th easiest schedule in Division I and done so in highly unimpressive fashion. I expected the 5-1 record, but I did not expect single digit margins of victory against Houston Baptist, North Florida, Elon (in OT no less!), and Miami (OH). Winning ugly is only good in the playoffs or against similarly positioned teams. A win isn't always just a win; scraping by against bad teams, at home no less, does not speak well of a team. The 13-point road win over Brown looked impressive at the time, however, Brown has turned out to be worse than expected (dropping over 70 spots from its pre-season KenPom.com ranking). NU’s performance in Providence now looks like an anomaly in comparison to the rest of its games.

If you’re looking for hope, don’t look to the remainder of the schedule. The ‘Cats’ next two opponents, Georgia Tech and Butler, are considerably better than all the teams they have beaten so far. Home games against Michigans, Central and Western, are no gimmies. Considering NU’s performance in its wins, those games against Mississippi Valley St., UIC, and Northern Kentucky are not either. After that, it’s B1G season, in which Ken Pomeroy now projects a 4-14 record for the ‘Cats. They are only favored by Pomeroy’s model in one of those games.

NU has gone from 77th in the KenPom pre-season rankings to 118th entering the B1G-ACC challenge. Why is that? The simplest answer is that the offense has not improved nearly as much as Pomeroy’s model expected and that the defense has regressed somewhat. The ‘Cats have a lower AdjO efficiency than the Rutgers team that scored eight (8!!!!) points in the second half against Virginia last Saturday. While NU’s AdjD efficiency is nearly identically to its 2014 defensive efficiency (94.7 and 94.2, respectively), the D1 average efficiency has dropped from 104.3 last season to 99.3 this season. In other words, the ‘Cats are much closer to average on defense this year. There are deeper reasons for these rankings, so let’s take a look.

Defense

What’s driving the decline in NU’s defensive efficiency? Let’s start with the four factors from this season and last.


NU’s opponents are shooting moderately better this season, but they’re also turning the ball over more often, collecting fewer of their own misses, and getting to the line about as often as last season. Overall, the ‘Cats are above average in OReb% allowed (D1 average is 31.6%), still slightly above average in eFG% allowed (48.3%), and right at average in TO% and FTRate.
 


What’s behind that increase in eFG%? It’s all about the 3P%. Last season NU was 41st in the country in defensive 3P%. As I noted in my defensive preview there was a great deal of luck in that number and it was unlikely to stay that good. This year NU is 280th in defensive 3P%; the luck is evening out. Interestingly, the ‘Cats’ 2P defense is even better this year than last, and it was pretty damn good last year. NU is again benefitting from well-below-average opponents’ FT%. That may not hold up as the season progresses. 

Where can NU improve defensively, then? It can force more turnovers via steals. Last season the ‘Cats were well below average, committing theft on a mere 6.9% of their opponents’ possessions. This year they’re at 4.8%. For context, the D1 average this year is 9.5%. Going for steals, either through zones that jump passing lanes or man-to-man traps, is a high risk/reward strategy. Missing a steal can lead to an easy bucket for the opponent, but getting a steal can do the same for NU. Given the offense’s struggles, that is a trade-off that might make sense.

Offense

Despite Chris Collins’s claim that he has more firepower at his disposal this year than last, the ‘Cats are not much better on offense. NU finished 2014 with an AdjO rating of 96.3 (309th in D1) and through six games this year has an AdjO rating of 98.0 (203rd). That’s an improvement of 0.017 points per possession and translates to 1.06 points per game at NU’s AdjTempo of 62.2 (329th in D1 if you were wondering).


NU isn’t shooting any better than last year or getting to the line more frequently. It is turning the ball over more often but also corralling more of its own misses, a trade-off that seems like just enough to boost NU’s scoring ever so slightly. 



When we break down that eFG% to its sub-components, we see that NU is much better at 3P shooting this year. 35.3% is good enough for 129
th in D1 (average is 33.5%) and a significant improvement over last year’s 30.7%. However, NU’s 2P% has cratered to 296th in D1 (average is 47.4%). 


What’s worse is the ‘Cats are taking more of their FGAs from 2P than they were last year (as shown by the lower 3PA/FGA this season). This is not a good strategy, and despite of NU’s improved 3P% it has the same point distribution as it did last season. This team should be taking a lot more 3P shots. 

Currently NU has two players shooting above D1 average from 2P range: Sanjay Lumpkin (86.7%, 13-15, and 0 2PAs in the loss to UNI) and Johnnie Vassar (100%, 2-2), neither of whom currently plays a noticeable contributing role in the offense. Vassar is currently a turnover machine and should not get more than 7.8% of minutes he’s currently playing, but Lumpkin has shown great improvement over last season in terms of shooting and ball security. The coaches would be wise to find a bigger role for him in the offense.

The three top guards in terms of minutes, Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, and JerShon Cobb, have combined to shoot 34.1% from 2P range, a figure so bad it gives me a migraine just thinking about it. The rest of the roster is hitting a mere 41.1% from 2P range, which is also not good. Meanwhile, the ‘Cats have six players at or better than average in terms of 3P%: Alex Olah, McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Cobb, Lumpkin, and Dave Sobolewski. So, again, this team should be taking a lot more 3P shots.

Let’s look a little more closely at some individual players.

Alex Olah

There’s a widespread perception that Olah has struggled this season, and it’s absolutely right. His usage is way up (from 18.4% to 24.4%) and his efficiency is way down (from 101.2 to 95.1) compared to last year. He’s turning the ball over more (20% up from 17.8%), but he’s also generating more assists, so that’s a bit of a wash. His 3P% is about average (33.3%), but with only 6 3PAs Olah is a non-factor from the outside. His free throw rate is up (73.8 from 44.1) and is 99th in D1, which is awesome. His 67.7% FT percentage is almost average (D1 average is 68.3%), so that’s really a net positive offensive contribution. Where he has struggled is in his 2P shooting, hitting only 41.7% of his 2PAs. Last year he hit 54.5% and as a freshman he hit 43.2%, so he’s having his worst season in terms of 2P% right now.

Others have pointed out that Olah is holding the ball too low, which I think is accurate, and that he seems tentative, which is also accurate. I would also posit that he may be getting the ball too far from the basket, and that NU’s emphasis on the pick and roll probably doesn’t play to his strengths. I suspect he may also be suffering from too many dribble-drive-and-dish action by NU’s guards. Again, I think dishes off those drives may not play to his strengths. Whatever the case, Olah needs to find his fire, and the coaches need to figure out where and how to get him the ball. NU’s offense will not be good if he isn’t contributing efficiently.

JerShon Cobb

Cobb entered this year with a career 2P% of 45.8% but is now at 26.7% on the year. His TORate is the highest it’s ever been, and his ORtg is the lowest it’s ever been. He hasn’t played such a minimal role in the offense since he was a freshman, and Chris Collins noted in his UNI post-game interview on WGN that they haven’t figured out how to get Cobb more involved. He is hitting a solid (and career-high) 35.3% of his 3PAs, but that number is skewed by his 3-4 performance at Brown as he’s taking just under 3 3PAs per game. Maybe he isn’t healthy enough to do some of the things he used to do. Maybe he’s checked out a bit mentally. Regardless, I think the best approach for Cobb is one I would recommend for most players on this team: more 3PAs and more action at the rim (if not on drives then on cuts) with an emphasis on getting to the line. The fewer midrange 2PAs Cobb takes the better.

Tre Demps

I think Demps is a decent player who works hard and has come up with some big shots late in games for NU, but the narratives of Demps as clutch and a dynamic scorer are overblown. I really hope that the coaching staff doesn’t buy into them. Here’s why: he’s a woefully inefficient shooter. His 38.5% 2P average is down from his career average of 41.2% entering the year. His 3P shooting is also down, from 34.2% to 29.6%. Even his foul shooting has plummeted, from 69.7% to 57.1%. The only thing Demps really has going for him offensively is his assist to turnover ratio of 2.4 (12 ASTs to 5 TOs). Considering that he takes 29.4% of NU’s shots when he’s on the court, those shooting percentages have an outsized negative impact on the offense. If Demps weren’t so inefficient most of the game, NU wouldn’t need his late game heroics. The ‘Cats don’t seem to have a better option on the bench than Demps (Lindsey can shoot but is a walking turnover, while Taphorn and Sobolewski both seem to have no role in this system), though, so they really need him to start shooting better. Short of that, the coaches may need to instruct Demps to shoot less frequently.

Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law

I’m grouping McIntosh and Law together because they’ve been the two most efficient offensive contributors of the regulars and because they’re sort of yin and yang to one another. McIntosh is best when creating for his teammates and shooting from the outside, while Law is best when getting to the rim.

McIntosh boasts a gaudy ARate of 34.0 (67th in the country) and a passable TORate of 22.6. For reference, Sobolewski was at 19.9 and 16.6 as a freshman while Juice Thompson was at 26.6 and 17.7. Those guys played on teams where everyone created for everyone else, whereas McIntosh does not. McIntosh is also shooting a blistering 47.4% from 3P range (Juice hit 43.3% as a freshman). On the flipside, McIntosh is a mere 32.4% from 2P range and has an almost negligible FTRate of 16.1. This suggests that while he is good at facilitating for teammates, he is not very good at generating his own points. It’s no secret that I loathe the midrange 2P shot, and McIntosh would be well advised to cut back on the 2P jumpers and floaters in the lane.

Law meanwhile has a decent ARate of 19.4 that is eclipsed by a TORate of 19.5. He’s hitting only 21.4% of his 3P shots and a middling 44.8% of his 2P shots. Where he excels is getting to the line. His 51.2 FTRate is 317th amongst D1 players, and he’s hitting a phenomenal 86.4% of his FTAs. Still, Law settles far too often for the dreaded midrange jumper. His value lies in his ability to get to the rim and the line. The more aggressive Law becomes, the better this offense will be. I would much rather see him get his shot blocked or turn the ball over attacking the basket than taking 13-foot baseline turnaround jumpers. In fact, if Law and McIntosh combine to take three 12-foot to 19-foot shots per game that’s at least two too many.

The Rest of the Guys

I’ve already mentioned that Lumpkin deserves a bigger role. I don’t think Vassar is at all ready for D1 ball. The coaches seem to have written off Sobolewski and Taphorn. Lindsey turns the ball over way too much for a guy who doesn’t create for his teammates, but his shooting skill may outweigh that shortcoming. I expect to see more and more of him as the season progresses. Skelly is a fantastic rebounder (15.2 OR% and 30.6 DR%) but turns the ball over more than anyone not named Vassar or Kreisberg and doesn’t look like a scorer yet. Finally, Kreisberg doesn’t seem to have any role offensively. He’s only taken two FGAs and turns the ball over at a 47.1 rate (yikes!). Skelly seems to be getting Kreisberg's minutes, and I don’t think that’s going to change.

So, What Does All This Mean?

My prescription for the offense is not much different than it was before the season. Minimize (or eliminate) the midrange jumper, get guys open threes from their best spots, get to the line, and crash the offensive glass. Right now, NU isn’t doing any of those things particularly well. To me that suggests the coaches do not have the right strategy for the players they’ve got. They showed the flexibility to change up the defense in 2014, to great effect. Can they do the same for the offense this year?



And A Phenomenal Song

Built to Spill - "You Were Right"