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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/29/2007 01:08:00 PM

Final Four Numbers: Picking Faves, Rating Big Men

No hatin': Joakim Noah leads the Gators in plus-minus rating.
Travis Lindquist/Getty Images

ATLANTA -- Checking in from the Marriott Marquis, where I just turned on the TV to find house channel 36 playing a silent slideshow of past NCAA champions. It spans from Jordan (1982) to Joakim (2006) and makes you do a double-take on the '95 slide, which for some reason is a photo of George Zidek cutting down the nets. I can't think of a better image to represent that tourney than Zidek, can you?

Enough of the backdrop. We get access to the teams tomorrow, which is also open-practice day at the Georgia Dome (and by open practice, we mean more of a shootaround/dunk contest/go through the motions kind of affair; all of the real work is done in hidden sessions elsewhere). In the meantime I figured I'd deliver what might be the Blog's last, or at least its penultimate, numbers post.

Odds vs. Efficiency
How Vegas, KenPom.com handicap the tourney's final weekend
Ohio State22.624.62.0
The first contribution comes from reader Jacob Wheatley-Schaller, a student at Emory, a fine local institution. He's been creating odds-versus-efficiency charts for us in the past two rounds, comparing the percentage chances that 1) Vegas and 2) Ken Pomeroy's efficiency numbers give each of the Final Four teams to win it all. (Perhaps Lynn College will issue Jacob three credits for his hard work.)

The table shows that while Florida is an overwhelming favorite in Vegas, the Gators are closer to the rest of the pack when it comes to efficiency. Pomeroy projects a one-point game between Florida and UCLA, which is a lot closer than most of us would imagine. Ohio State, meanwhile, is a marginal No. 2 over Georgetown in both categories.

For the second offering, I spent part of the morning poring over kenpom.com's HD tourney boxscores, which might just be the greatest invention of the 2006-07 season. HD boxes are statistical equivalent of watching a game on your 42-inch Sharp Aquos versus your 20-inch kitchen set, in part because they include one of the juiciest -- and previously unavailable -- college stats: player plus-minus ratings. Unfortunately the HD compiler depends teams' full play-by-play data, something that Georgetown and UCLA don't make available online, so we only have full tourney plus-minus for Florida and Ohio State. Which is better than nothing, given that they're the faves to meet on Monday night, and it also allows us to make a few Oden, Noah and Horford observations.

Here's the Gators' data (I've omitted their first-round game, which had a 43-point victory margin, because it's just a plus-bomb):

Florida's Plus/Minus Ratings
Combined data from past three rounds of NCAA tournament (total margin of victory: 23)

Here's the Buckeyes' data (first-round game also omitted):

Ohio State's Plus/Minus Ratings
Combined data from past three rounds of NCAA tournament (total margin of victory: 24)

Oden may not be scoring the most points for Ohio State, but his plus-43 rating is off the charts. The most surprising thing in both charts, to me, is that Noah actually has a higher rating than Oden; Jo gets ripped for his lack of ability to score in the half-court, but his impact on the Gators' energy, transition game and defense is massive. Just as eye-opening is the fact that the guy who is regarded as the more polished player, Horford, has the lowest plus-minus of any Gator starter -- and a rating 28 points behind Noah's.

The charts don't paint a pretty picture for either teams' reserve big men. Florida's Chris Richard has an abysmal negative-24 rating, mostly due to a couple of horrid defensive stretches against a perimeter-minded Butler team, while OSU's Othello Hunter is negative-16 after weathering a few Memphis runs on Saturday. In HD, the importance of keeping your star bigs out of foul trouble is extremely clear.

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posted by Luke Winn | View comments |


Having played a lot of summer leagues and such in addition to school ball (no college) I remember a situation where the coach sent me in to pull down the shorts of the opposing team. We were so far behind it was hopeless and he wanted to give the other team something to think about other than embarassing us worse. It worked! The efficency ratings don't take into account the player who is sent in to take the hard fouls to get the other team to stop knocking the crap out of the stars.

Yeah, they have bad stats, but without them, stars would likely be injured by a hit man from the opposing team. Face it, sometimes games are more a brawl than a game and the "role player" that comes in and stands in for the "star" doesn't get any credit!
Posted: March 30, 2007 10:42 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Interesting useless facts: In Round 1 the average win was by 16 points, Round 2 by 8.69 points, Sweet Sixteen 4.625 points, Elite Eight 12.25 points and who knows about the Final Four. The conclusion: Closest games are in the Sweet Sixteen. At least this year.
Luke, just some thoughts...

It is not surprising to anyone in GatorNation that Noah is the highest in the +/- stat. What other big man is such a harasssing presense both in the paint and on the perimeter? ( ans= not oden).

The most surprising thing to me, other than Horford's low +/-, is that basketball is just starting to use the cumulative +/- stat. It has been in hockey for at least 15 years (probably more), and is a great way of rating many otherwise difficult to quantify intangibles. Probably the system needs some work to account for basketball's high per game scoring. Perhaps an average +/- per game would be more appropriate, and only count +/-'s from teams with 10 of your tournament ranking ( top 20 in regular season).

It would also be useful, in my opinion, to have someone record each player's foul +/-, or factor them into the normal +/-.

Props from G-ville,
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