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Wednesday, April 13, 2005
 
Storm Warning - Recapping the Cyclones
The points per possession graph project that I worked on over the weekend got me interested in looking closer at a lot of different teams and gave me plenty of ideas for things to write about over the summer. That's good for me in that it will spice up my summer days that will otherwise be spent at some mind-numbing job. And I'm hoping it'll be good for you the reader, in that you can come here a few days a week to find some college basketball content as you count the days until play resumes this fall.

I'll first examine a team just a couple hours down the interstate from here - the Iowa State Cyclones. The Clones were most known this season for following an 0-5 conference start with a season-saving seven game winning streak that included upsets of Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Kansas.

Taking a look at the Big XII's PPP graph gives you a quick idea of Iowa State's relative strengths and weaknesses. They overcame a very inefficient offense with what was easily the conference's best defense to finish with a 9-7 record.

*Note - All stats in this post are from conference games only, unless otherwise noted*
HH Stats Glossary

Defense
Here's how Iowa State's defense rated in a few important categories -

..........................Pts/Poss..........adjFG%........TO/poss.......Dreb%.....FTA/FGA
Iowa State.................96................48.5...............26.9............65.9..........0.325
Conf. Rank..................1...................3....................1.................7.................3
Conf. Avg................107................50.5...............21.1.............66.1..........0.368

To restate how impressive this defense was this year, here's the league's top five defensive teams, by PPP -

Iowa State...........96
Kansas..............101
Oklahoma.........101
Nebraska..........104
Okla. State........105

The defense (and the team's resurgence) was driven by a stifling zone press that forced the above absurd turnover rate. It featured freshman Rashon Clark at the front with trapping help from sophomores Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock. Clark's athleticism, Blalock's wingspan, and Stinson's uncanny anticipation put them all near the top of the Big XII's steals leaderboard. Check out the top 5 -

Stinson, ISU.....37
Blalock, ISU.....37
Ross, TT.........37
Peete, KSU.....37
Clark, ISU........36

No other team placed more than two guys in the top 15. Iowa State had four, as forward Damion Staple also cracked the list.

When ISU couldn't get a steal off the press, they were still tough in the half court set. Senior center Jared Homan made sure that no shots came easy down low, and the perimeter guys only allowed opponents to make 32% of their threes, resulting in the solid adjFG% listed in the table. The team's one defensive weakness was rebounding, as neither Homan nor Staple rebounded like you'd hope a post player would, but they still finished near league average. Defensive rebounding would have been a much bigger issue if not for the presence of Stinson, one of the country's better rebounding guards (and he's only 6-3), and good contributions on the glass from Carr and Clark.

Offense
..........................Pts/Poss..........adjFG%........TO/poss.......Oreb%.....FTM/FGA
Iowa State...............100................45.7...............17.9.............31.7...........0.256
Conf. Rank................10...................12...................1................10..................6
Conf. Avg................107................50.5...............21.1.............33.9...........0.260

Offense was a completely different story for the Cyclones. They finished last in shooting %, near the bottom in offensive rebounding, and only beat Baylor and Missouri in offensive efficiency. Had they been at all turnover-prone, Iowa State would have been downright (*cue Bill Walton*) horrible on offense.

The low turnover rate was initially a surprise to me, since younger players tend to turn the ball over more, and all of ISU's main perimeter players are freshmen and sophomores. But it does make some sense, since Stinson and Blalock played a ton of minutes as freshmen last year, and since they're both old for their grade - Stinson is already 22, and Blalock turns 22 this fall.

Homan and Staple both failed to provide offensive rebounding. Their respective Oreb% were 7.0% and 6.0%, which is just unacceptable from post players. As for the shooting % - there was a lot not to like. The team shot very few threes, and made only 28% of them. Homan shot an awful 42 FG%. Last but not least was Stinson, who I will go on record as saying is the most overrated offensive player in the Big XII. He was exciting to watch, but that doesn't always translate into effectiveness.

In his 2003-04 Pro Basketball Prospectus, John Hollinger wrote a nice rant detailing how overrated Latrell Sprewell was, and he included a nice list of attributes of overrated players. That set of characteristics is like a checklist of Stinson's game. Here's a sampling -

- High scoring average.....17.5 ppg.....check

- Turnover prone.....3.4 TO/40 min, but only .18 TO/poss.....no check

- Periodically dunks or makes spectacular plays.....Stinson's passing and play in the lane make him a constant threat for the highlight reel.....check

- Doesn't make many 3-pointers.....made 9 in 16 games.....check

- Stats padded by playing a lot of minutes.....37 mpg.....check

Stinson's stat line (especially the more advanced stuff) is almost a replica of Pierre Pierce's numbers, but that's a post for another day. The bottom line is that it takes him a ton of minutes and possessions to put up 17.5 ppg, which is exactly why Pierce's offense was so replaceable.

Here are some telling offensive numbers for ISU's main guys -


Name

%Min

O Rt

%poss

TS%

TO/poss

FT/FG

Reb%

Pass

Stl%

Curtis Stinson

0.90

100

28.1%

50.5%

18.1%

0.44

9.8%

11.4%

3.9%

Will Blalock

0.91

105

20.9%

50.1%

16.8%

0.37

4.2%

20.4%

3.8%

Jared Homan

0.91

93

19.9%

46.5%

17.8%

0.35

11.5%

4.9%

1.7%

Tasheed Carr

0.49

108

20.4%

55.3%

15.6%

0.30

8.2%

8.7%

3.8%

Rashon Clark

0.66

112

16.1%

58.9%

19.8%

0.24

11.1%

7.0%

5.1%

Damion Staple

0.77

102

12.9%

55.0%

19.3%

0.50

9.9%

2.5%

2.5%


Some context - league average offensive rating = 107, true shot % = 55%, TO/poss = 21.1, fta/fga = 0.37, stl% = 2.0.

Much like Iowa with Pierce, a major chunk of ISU's offense goes to Stinson, who scores at a rate well below the conference's average. The main difference in this situation, though, is that ISU doesn't have some of the other offensive options that Iowa did. The Hawks had three guys with offensve ratings ranging from 110 to 125 ready to step in, so it made a lot more sense for Pierce to shoot less. Here, having Stinson shoot less won't necessarily improve the offense. (I wrote a lot about Pierce's inefficiency this season, most notably here and here.)

Other notables from the table -
Every guy on the team had a respectably low turnover rate. I'm still impressed with that.
ISU's press led to steals for a lot of guys, as you can see by how far above the league Stl% so many of these guys finished.
Homan and Staple had very disappointing rebound %'s, while Stinson's was very solid for a guard. His defensive rebounding (not listed here) is especially good.

Next Year
To briefly recap the season, Iowa State was excellent at forcing turnovers, holding opponents to a low shooting %, and limiting their own turnovers. They struggled at shooting and offensive rebounding, and were average at defensive rebounding. The guys responsible for the strengths (Stinson, Clark, Blalock, Carr) are staying for at least another couple years, and the guys mostly responsible for the rebounding are on their way out, so Cyclone fans should be fairly optimistic.

ISU's two primary post players, Homan and Staple, both graduated this year. Homan was a four-year starter who endeared himself to fans with his small town roots and hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners style of play. Fans will miss his presence, and the team will miss his interior defense, but I don't see any reason why his play on offense and on the glass can't be replaced. ISU's recruiting class contains several post players, including two four star centers, according to Scout. Even if they're just average offensive rebounders, Iowa State's offense should be better, because (a) offensive rebounding is especially valuable to offenses who miss a lot of shots, and (b) average offensive rebounding would be a big step up from Homan and Staple.

Bottom Line
ISU's defense should be strong again next year, since the guys who forced most of the turnovers are all back. It could be even better if the recruits provide good defensive rebounding, though that could be partially offset by more free throws allowed, since freshmen post players tend to be a little foul-prone.

Iowa State has the most room for improvement on offense. If they had had a league average offense this year (107 PPP), their expected winning % would have been in the same range as Kansas, Oklahoma, and Okie State, who all finshed at 12-4 in the conference. ISU needs to get a lot better at shooting the ball. Clark and Carr improved their three point shots throughout the season, and Carr even hit 42% of his attempts in conference games. Continued development from them will be important, and Stinson and/or Blalock could definitely help the team by adding an effective perimeter game. The offense also needs to rebound better, as outlined above.

With athletic players providing plenty of excitement at both ends of the floor, Iowa State will be a fun team to watch next year. If they develop a couple good three point shooters, and if the freshmen provide plenty of rebounding (and those are both big ifs), they can be contenders in next years Big XII.
Comments:
Hey Ryan, just noticed your good stuff here and thought I would talk about some of it. I can't believe you didn't tell me about this but I'm sure you assumed I'd continue checking Hawkeye Hoops every day for the rest of the year.

First, I know that a lot of this is based on the formulas for stats that tell more of the story than things like scoring and rebounding but then sometimes I think that those don't tell all of the story.

For one thing, I think you're being too rough on Homan regarding his rebounding. He was second in the conference with 8.7 per game (Simeon was way out in front with 11.0). He was third in the league in offensive rebounds (although there were several guys right behind him that probably played fewer minutes). It's tougher for zone teams to rebound because of finding men to block out and the defense is geared more towards the steals. They obviously excelled at this to the detriment of some of the other stats. Homan really stepped up in the tournament and averaged better than 15-15 in his two NCAA games. I think that some of his % numbers you figure are hurt by the fact that he played so many minutes (2nd in the league). This may have added a bit to his stats but not many big men can be that effective for that many minutes.

Personally, I don't think it's going to be as easy to replace him as some think it will be. His scoring should be picked up by the guards but rebounding will be a concern. Outside of OU and maybe UT the Big 12 won't be as good next year (although based on tournament performance it may not have been that good this year) so I think they should be able to compete if Taggart and one or two other guys can step up.

It's tough to look at what Stinson does by his stat sheet all the time. Without him the team goes absolutely nowhere but at the same time he could be so much better with an outside shot and fewer turnovers. With Pierce it seemed like he was taking shots away from his teammates but Stinson is willing to distribute the ball when he needs to (5th in apg as a shooting guard). There are some games where his shooting % will be atrocious but there's no way ISU has the success it did in the bigger games. I still put the ball in his hands every time when the game is on the line. And you did address some of this by showing that there aren't many other guys that are much more efficient than he is waiting for shots.

Next year I think that 4 of the 5 starters should be able to score 15 or 20 on any given night and the defense should still be very tough. Like you said, some things that will really help is if John Neal can find his shot again and if the two sophomores can shoot like they did for most of the conference season. Should be an interesting season.
 
Great response, Ben, but I still have to disagree with you on most points. The problem with most counting stats, like total rebounds, or even rebounds per game, is that they are subject to certain biases. The best ways to rack up a lot of rebounds per game, besides being a good rebounder, are to (a) play a lot of minutes (see: Jared Homan), (b) play for a team that misses a lot of shots (see: Iowa State), and (c) play for a team that forces a lot of misses (see: Iowa State). Rebounding % eliminates that mess, and just measures how many rebounds a player grabs based on how many are available to him. (Granted, the "available rebounds" is an estimate based on playing time, but the distortion is negligible for a guy playing 37 mpg.) Based on his rebound %, Homan just didn't do a good job on the glass. I recognize that Homan is a valuable defender in the post, but then I already mentioned that in my recap.

And it's not safe to jump to the conclusion that Homan "stepped up" his game in the tournament. Yes, he scored 33 points, but he also only hit 13 of his 33 shots (that's 39% for those of you scoring at home). I'll admit that his rebounding was solid those two games, and definitely better than his conference play, but it wasn't outstanding. Minnesota shot 33%, and UNC held ISU to 36% shooting - there were lots and lots of opportunities for rebounds, which reduces the gaudiness of his numbers.

To clear up something that might not have been clear, I was only looking at stats from conference games. While that shrinks the sample size and invites randomness to fog up the numbers, it at least puts teams from the same conference on roughly equal footing for the sake of comparisons. I mention this because, in conference games, Homan only averaged 7.4 rpg while playing over 37 mpg. I just don't know how to spin that to make Homan look like a good rebounder, considering that in those 37 minutes ISU was the worst shooting team in the conference, and they held their opponents to a low FG%. He had a ton of opportunities for rebounds, he just didn't go get them.

As for Stinson, I stand by my claim that he's overrated. You said that "there's no way ISU has the success it did in bigger games" without Stinson. If I may continue the parallel - that's exactly what they said about Pierce.
 
Ryan, I am impressed with your grasp of statistics. There are kids I am graduating with who do not understand the randomness blurring outcomes, and they are statistics majors!

Either way, you're still a sellout.

PS: As a NIU Huskie student (I would say basketball fan if I went to any games that didn't give away free t-shirts), I am interested in how Ben Rand plays for a MAC team. I'll be graduating before basketball season, so if you or any readers can give a preview, I would appreciate it.
 
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