January 20, 2012 - by David Hess
After a long hiatus, Project Defensive Score Sheet is back. This is our effort to take a more data-driven approach to evaluating player defense in college basketball.
Today’s defensive chart focuses on a key Big East battle from Wednesday: Cincinnati’s road win over Connecticut which propelled them into second place in the conference standings (though they remain only the third most likely Big East regular season champion, according to our college basketball standings projections).
What did the Bearcats do defensively to help them pull off the upset? And, how does this year’s Huskies defense compare to last year’s championship squad?
Before we answer those questions, let’s refresh your memory about this defensive charting project.
The first step is, of course, collecting data.
Traditional player box scores have very little in the way of defensive record keeping, with only blocks and steals tallied. In order to get more detailed info, and to find out who actually does a good job of the main goal of defense — preventing the opponent from scoring points — it’s necessary to do the work yourself.
That means poring over game film (thank you for existing, ESPN3 and DVR technology) to chart the responsible defender(s) for any action by the offense that shows up in a box score.
For a thorough review of the process itself, you can check out this old defensive charting post. But the main idea is that every shot, turnover, rebound, and free throw by the offense gets credited to an individual defender (if possible). Then, we can use that data to construct a Defensive Rating that is analogous to the Offensive Rating that has recently become popular in basketball analysis.
This game seemed like a great choice for charting both because we were curious about a fairly under-the-radar Cincinnati team, and because we wanted to find out who is to blame for Connecticut’s downward defensive turn this season.
OK, so the first step is to take a look at the numbers. Definitions are below the chart.
These numbers come from four sources.
Taken from the traditional box score:
Tracked directly by the charter:
If you knew nothing about college basketball, and somebody told you that one of these two teams was the defending national champion who had captured the title largely on the strength of their great defense, you’d have been hard pressed to identify UConn as that team, based on watching this game alone. The best defender on the court Wednesday night was wearing a Cincinnati uniform, and the Bearcats looked more fundamentally sound.
Yancy Gates Had A Quietly Terrific Game. Not once during the contest did I gasp in amazement at a great defensive play by Gates, but at the end of the night, the numbers showed he had done an excellent job of controlling the paint for Cincinnati. In the last game I charted, Kentucky freshman defensive star Anthony Davis racked up 10.8 Forced Misses and an 80% stop percentage, which are both fantastic numbers. Gates on Wednesday accounted for 10.5 Forced Misses and a 79% stop percentage. That’s a great game, accomplished in a totally different manner — via good positioning and a great imitation of a brick wall, rather than via high flying blocks and a blur of lanky arms and legs.
Jaquon Parker Looks Too Small To Play As Well As He Does Against Big Guys. The 6’3″ Parker was the second best defender for the Bearcats, among players who played significant minutes. Yet for a few of his minutes, he was essentially playing the power forward spot for Cincy, and was bodying up on Alex Oriakhi or Andre Drummond. My scribbled notes say “#44 looks tiny but throws his weight around well.”
The Roscoe Smith We Saw Last Postseason Was Nowhere To Be Seen Wednesday. Smith was essentially tied with Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi as the second-best defender on the Huskies last season, but most of that value came from great play in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. During the regular season, he was actually somewhat below average. If this game was any indication, his regular season doldrums are back.
Freshman Andre Drummond Is A Weak Link In The UConn Defense. While he has great physical skills, he was clearly out of position several times in this game, and slow to rotate as a help defender. He was able to make up for a couple of those mistakes by taking advantage of his enormous wingspan, but overall he was not a net positive for the Connecticut defense. If his mental game improves over the next two months, though, he could be a defensive asset.
Connecticut’s Closeouts On Jump Shooters Seemed Slow Across The Board. One of the more impressive aspects of last year’s UConn defense was the ability of their wings to collapse down and help, then quickly recover to shooters after a kick out. That quick recovery didn’t seem evident Wednesday — even from Jeremy Lamb, who was fantastic at it last year. Perhaps it was just an off night, or perhaps integrating the freshmen has led to some miscommunication, which makes everyone more hesitant to fly out on a shooter.
Neils Giffey and Cashmere Wright Both Had Better Nights Than The Numbers Suggest. Giffey played solid defense, but was the main victim of Cincinnati’s ridiculous first half perimeter shooting. At least one banked-in three damaged his defensive rating, as well as another very deep bomb. Similarly, Cashmere Wright had a great night up until the point where Shabazz Napier nailed three deep threes in the closing minutes of the game. Wright’s defense on those shots wasn’t all that bad.
Alex Oriakhi Was As Solid And Steady As Ever. The big man rarely caused turnovers last year, and simply forced missed shots all the time. He did the same tonight, and was a big reason why Cincinnati actually shoot worse from inside the arc than from downtown.
Despite Only Winning By Three, Cincinnati Played The Better Defensive Game. Technically, the defensive efficiencies of the two teams were nearly even. But look at those “Team” lines — those tell you what happened on wide open shots, lopsided transition chances, and free throws after intentional late game fouls. Cincinnati’s “Team” defense was worse, which means UConn took better advantage of their easy opportunities. If both teams had scored at equal rates on their gimmes, Cincinnati would have had a more comfortable victory.
*EDIT* Better late than never … We sent out an email recently with a defensive charting template, so that others could join in and get their chart on. Chris Mackinder of Deuce 2 Sports took us up on the offer, and has been charting some Michigan State games. Please check out his efforts so far. Also, we have it on good authority that some readers and/or contributors affiliated with the Duke Hoops Blog have been charting games, and will release their numbers into the wild sometime soon. If you, too, are interested in charting, please shoot us an email. *END EDIT*
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