We use the phrase "shoot the lights out" frequently. So rarely does it actually happen. Last Saturday, the Texas Longhorns basketball team visited UCLA, and the game was delayed after the arena went dark towards the end of the first half. Texas also shot the ball very well. This leads us to the classic question: causation, or merely correlation?
Myck Kabongo continues to take positive steps. J'Covan Brown continues to play well. It is quite possible that come March, Texas will have one of the better offensive backcourts in the country. Mix in a healthy dose of Jonathan Holmes (quickly becoming one of my favorite Longhorns of recent years), and it is not unreasonable to expect that Texas will be a team that no one wants to play.
Of course, the Longhorns still have to fight their way through a very tough schedule, with games against Temple and North Carolina before diving into conference play. Once the conference starts, wins will be hard to come by. The Big 12 is going to be very good this year. And Texas will have to play everyone twice. That means two games against Kansas, Missouri, and Kansas State, as well as Big XII South rivals Baylor and Texas A&M. Also, don't sleep on the Oklahoma Sooners. They are 5-1, and Lon Kruger knows what he is doing. Oklahoma State will not be a pushover. For what it is worth, the best shooter in the Big 12 may be Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. I guess that isn't worth very much.
With such a tough schedule ahead of Texas, getting wins right now is very important for getting into the NCAA tournament. That is why this week was very encouraging. After the jump, I will take a look at this week's games, continue to harp on Texas' rebounding troubles, and take a detailed look at the Texas defense through the first seven games.
The week in review
Texas vs. UCLA
|FGA+ 0.475 FTA||56.325||66.5||-10.175|
This was a big win for Texas. UCLA may be a total mess right now, but it was still good to get a first win against a "major conference" team. You can make an argument that the Atlantic 10 is pretty close to a major conference when it comes to basketball, and Texas' win against Rhode Island is sort of like beating a major conference team. I personally don't want to make that argument (I did think about it) because Rhode Island hasn't been very good this year.
UCLA struggled to play anything resembling actual defense, and Texas made them pay. Often on offense it is best to take what the defense gives you, so it is really nice that UCLA gives you pretty much everything. Texas had a robust 0.613 true shooting percentage. What makes this more remarkable is that most of this high true shooting percentage came from shots from the floor. Texas only attempted 7 free throws for the game. Texas shot 37% from three point range and 65% from two point range. This was pretty much how we expected things to come out.
UCLA was not exactly lighting things up offensively. Their true shooting percentage of 0.444 was pretty terrible. A lot of credit for this goes to the Texas defense, which I will discuss in greater detail in a section below. UCLA was bad from the free throw line, going 10-20, but even if they had gone 15-20 from the line, their true shooting percentage would only have increased to 0.481.
In what appears like it will be the story for this season, Texas' substantial true shooting percentage advantage more than made up for all the extra shots UCLA took. The true shooting percentage differential could have covered roughly an extra 20 shots by UCLA, and they only took 10 extra shots.
Now let's talk a little bit about the rebounding. Texas out rebounded UCLA for the game by a margin of 34-30. Despite this Texas was still poor on the defensive glass, allowing UCLA to rebound 44% of their misses. Texas rebounded 48% on the offensive boards, which is quite good. Texas continues to struggle with defensive rebounding. Be careful when interpreting raw rebounding margins, as they can be very deceiving in games where one team misses a whole bunch of shots.
I want to look a little bit more closely at the individual player rebounding percentages. Here are the defensive rebounding percentages of the five Texas starters. These numbers are estimates of what percentage of available rebounds that each player tracked down while they were on the court. Jonathan Holmes continues to be the best defensive rebounder on the team. Kabongo is also tracking down a decent number of rebounds. After several good games in a row, Wangmene was once again not really doing his part to secure the defensive glass.
As I will discuss in a section below, poor defensive rebounding is the major thing that is holding Texas back. With better defensive rebounding, Texas would become an excellent team on defense. Right now, Texas' defensive rebounding percentage for the season is about 58%. In the UCLA game it was 54%. This is really bad (kenpom.com has Texas ranked #333 on defensive rebounding). The median defensive rebounding percentage for NCAA Division I is around 67%. I have no hopes of Texas even getting to median level, but let's just imagine they were going to get to 65%. What would that take? If we look at the Texas starters during the UCLA game, when that starting lineup was on the floor we would expect the defensive rebounding percentage to be around 51%. This is just the sum of the rebounding percentage for each starter; there are good reasons why this might not be an accurate prediction of the rebounding percentage for that particular lineup, but let's just take it as a useful approximation. If Texas is at roughly 50%, and need to get to around 65%, then they need another 15%. A good chunk of this probably needs to come from the big guys. I don't see Texas ever getting to the 65% mark without an improvement from Wangmene. In the two games where Texas exceeded 65% on the defensive glass, Wangmene had defensive rebounding percentages of 19.2% and 16.5%. In both of those games, Holmes had greater than 20% of the defensive rebounds when he was on the court. To get to the elusive 65% on defensive rebounds, we need our two big guys to combine for about 35% on the defensive glass.
We can also take a look at the non-starters. Bond, Chapman, and McClellan are all making positive contributions to the rebounding effort when they are on the court.
Texas struggled a bit with turnovers against UCLA. While a 20% turnover percentage is not a disaster, it is not very good. It is worse than what we have come to expect from Texas. Chapman seemed to particularly struggle, turning the ball over 4 times.
Texas vs. UT-Arlington
|FGA+ 0.475 FTA||70.825||68.075||2.75|
The difference in shots between the two teams was relatively small, but favored Texas. The difference in true shooting percentage was larger, and also favored Texas. Those two factors give Texas an easy win.
I want to highlight a few things about the offense. To understand where shots are coming from, and how efficient each player is with his shot, I like to plot true shooting percentage vs. the percentage of team shots taken by each player. The plot for the UT-Arlington game is shown below. So far this season, Texas' two most important and efficient scorers (based on a combination of efficiency and volume of shots) have been J'Covan Brown and Jonathan Holmes. Brown and Holmes both had rough nights shooting the ball. Brown went 1-7 from beyond the three point line -- this is going to happen from time to time. McClellan, Kabongo, Lewis, and Wangmene all had good games from a shooting efficiency standpoint. McClellan was fantastic, going 8-11 from the floor, including 4-6 from three point range. McClellan has an outstanding stroke, and I think we can expect more games like this from him.
One additional big positive from this game was that Texas held UT-Arlington to a 37% offensive rebounding percentage (meaning Texas had a defensive rebounding percentage of 63%). This is not a great number, but it is better than all but two of Texas' games so far. I think that when Texas gets over 60% on the defensive glass, they stand a pretty good chance of winning. Let's see how that prediction holds up over the season (so far, Texas is 2-1 when they have a defensive rebounding percentage greater than 60%).
Another bit of encouragement on the rebounding front was that Alexis Wangmene had a defensive rebounding percentage of 23.5%. That makes this Wangmene's best defensive rebounding game of the season. I have picked on his defensive rebounding some, so I need to give him credit when he does well. Also, Jaylen Bond posted a 39% defensive rebounding percentage in limited minutes. This is a trend that I have noticed; Bond is a rebounding machine when he is in the game. Although his minutes are limited, and as a result the samples are small, Bond's defensive rebounding percentages are very high. Perhaps we can look into this in the upcoming weeks.
Evaluating the Texas defense
Last week, I spent some time looking at the Texas offense. This week, I wanted to talk about the defense so far this season. Texas is currently good, but not great, when it comes to team defense. They were allowing 97.5 points per 100 possessions, as of Sunday December 4. Kenpom.com rates Texas' defense at #64 in the country. (Kenpom.com adjusts the rankings for the level of competition.)
As you probably can tell by now, I approach basketball from a simple conceptual framework. I focus on true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for three point shots and free throws) and things that increase or decrease the number of shots a team takes, such as rebounding and turnover percentages. When you are on offense you want to maximize the number of shots you get, and the efficiency with which you shoot. When you are on defense, you want to minimize the number of shots your opponents get, and the efficiency of your opponent's shots.
As of Sunday, Texas' opponents had a true shooting percentage of 0.475. When we compare this with the NCAA median of around 0.53 (for the 2010-2011 season), we can say that Texas has done well when it comes to holding down opponent shooting efficiency. So there is the good. The bad is that Texas has allowed their opponents to shoot 1.02 shots/poss. (I generally refer to FGA + 0.475 x FTA with the term "shots.") The 2010-2011 NCAA median for this was 0.967 shots/possession. Texas is allowing a large number of extra shots. These extra shots are costing Texas a lot of points. If Texas was giving up the median level of shots per possession, they would allow roughly 5 fewer points per 100 possessions. This would make them close to a top 10 defense.
There are two ways that you can reduce your opponent's number of shots per possession. You can turn your opponent over, and you can protect the defensive glass. Rick Barnes' teams rarely excel at forcing turnovers, wisely (in my view) emphasizing other aspects of defense. This year, the Longhorns' opponents have turned the ball over in approximately 21% of their possessions, which is actually a fairly high rate for Texas (kenpom.com has Texas near the NCAA median in opponent turnover percentage).
One thing lacking from the analysis of the previous paragraphs is that it ignores Texas' competition. It is entirely possible that Texas could do well in defensive shooting percentage simply because they have played poor shooting teams. We can try to control for this by looking at how Texas' opponents have played overall, as well as how they have played against Texas. The key data are in the table below. In it, I list the true shooting percentage and shots per possession of each Texas opponent in their game against Texas. I also show the season averages for each team, along with the differences for each statistic between the results in the Texas game and the season averages.
|Game result||Opponent averages||Difference|
If you study this table, you will notice that Texas was able to hold 4 of their 7 opponents below their season averages for true shooting percentage. You will also notice that only two of Texas' opponents (Oregon State and NC State) have been particularly efficient shooting the ball so far this season. Both of those teams shot somewhat better than their season averages in true shooting percentage against Texas. Most of the rest of Texas' opponents have not been particularly good in terms of shooting efficiency, and Texas' defense in most cases appears to have made them substantially worse. So we can say that some of Texas' effectiveness in terms of true shooting percentage defense is likely do to their poor shooting opponents, although Texas' defense certainly deserves some credit as well. On a per game average, Texas has lowered their opponents true shooting percentage by about 0.044. This is a pretty significant amount, which works out to roughly a 10 point per 100 possession effect.
Now we need to look at the shots/possession. Texas has allowed all but two of their opponents to get more shots per possession then their season average. And I worry that the NC State game was affected by the relatively high proportion of free throws that were taken by the Wolfpack (free throws don't provide much opportunity for offensive rebounds). On a per game average, Texas has raised their opponents shots per possession by 0.04. A swing of 0.04 shots per possession works out to roughly an extra 4 points per 100 possessions. So while Texas' shooting defense is taking away 10 points per 100 possessions from their average opponent, they are giving back 4 of these points by allowing the extra shots.
All in all, the Texas defense has been good. Better rebounding could make it great.