It goes without saying that the Texas Longhorns had a disappointing hoops season. While it is easy to come to snap judgments about what went wrong for Texas, it is worth taking a little bit of time to really understand what happened and why. In the coming weeks, we will look more deeply at the long term issues surrounding the Texas basketball program, but as a starting point is is useful to understand exactly where things stand, and exactly what went wrong this season. This post will look at the Texas offense, while tomorrow's post will look at the defense.
How I will be analyzing the offense and defense of the Texas Longhorns
To make this evaluation, I will be using the basic toolbox of tempo-free statistics. With this approach, the focus is on points per possession scored by the offense, points per possession allowed by the defense, and the various factors that control these two numbers.
The primary tool for this investigation will be to focus on the statistics generated by the Texas Longhorns during the 2013 Big 12 season. In many ways, it is far easier to focus on the in-conference results in assessing a season. During the non-conference season, the caliber of competition varies a great deal. Teams play non-conference schedules with substantial differences in difficulty, making comparative evaluations hard. Adjusted stats help, but only up to a point. During the conference season a natural frame of reference for comparing teams within the conference emerges. This is particularly true in a league like the Big 12 that plays a true round robin schedule. Using in-conference results makes it straightforward to compare Texas with the rest of its Big 12 peers.
As a warning, a bit of math is coming in the next few paragraphs. But don't worry, you don't need to follow all of the details to understand the article. If you don't care to know all the details, just think of the mathematics as a machine that takes a bunch of statistical inputs and spits out the relative importance of each statistic. Using this machine, we can understand how important various factors were for the Texas Longhorns, and can identify the specific problems that were the biggest issues for Rick Barnes' team.
The math starts here.
It turns out that we can make fairly accurate estimates of how many points per possession a team scores or allows using a combination of popular statistical measures. I have made use of these estimates in the past to understand Kentucky's disappointing season, and have even presented a simple derivation of my estimation formula for those interested. (Note: if you want to dig further into the methods, read the appendix of the Kentucky article first.)
The equation below generally estimates points per possession for an offense or a defense to within plus or minus 0.02. The definitions of the variables are listed below the equation.
TO%: The percentage of possessions that end in a turnover.
eFG%: A composite statistic that combines two point percentage and three point percentage, but accounts for the differences in the values of these two shots. It can be calculated with a team's two point shooting percentage (2FG%), three point shooting percentage (3FG%), and the fraction of shots taken from three point range (3FGA/FGA).
FT%: The percentage of free throw attempts that a team makes.
FTR: Free throw rate. This is simply the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts.
FG%: Field goal percentage. This is not the same as effective field goal percentage; it is just the conventional field goal percentage that you typically see.
ORB%: The percentage of total rebounds pulled down by the offense.
Using this equation, it is possible to compare the Texas Longhorns to the Big 12 average. If you have the inclination to perform these sorts of calculations yourself, you can probably figure out many ways to do it. In this case, I have used the equation to estimate how much changing a single variable at a time changes points per possession, and then with these results can compare how the differences of each statistical factor between Texas' results and league average changes points per possession relative to the league average. The data used for this exercise come from Kenpom.com.
The math ends here.
To help visualize these results, I have created a waterfall chart that compares Texas' offensive performance with the average performance in the Big 12. Using this chart, it is easy to see how each statistical factor either helped or hurt the Texas offense, relative to the conference average. This chart will look familiar to those of you with finance backgrounds, or those of you who listen in on webcasts of corporate earnings reports, as these sorts of charts are often used to understand things like cash flow.
The Texas Offense
Teams averaged 1.02 points per possession during Big 12 play. The Texas Longhorns scored 0.99 points per possession. The waterfall chart below helps us identify what factors led to Texas performing below league average on offense. Any factor that increased points per possession is colored green, while any factor that reduces points per possession is red.
The single biggest factor in producing Texas' poor season was lousy outside shooting. An inability to hit three point shots cost Texas roughly 0.04 points per possession, or 2.6 points over a 65 possession game. During Big 12 play the Longhorns only connected on 29 percent of their threes. Texas' inability to knock down what were often wide open shots occasionally bordered on absurd, with one example being Texas' 2-21 three point performance during a road game against Kansas.
Ioannis Papapetrou and Julien Lewis both had respectable seasons shooting the three, but virtually every other Longhorn struggled. Most notably, Sheldon McClellan only connected on 27 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, while Demarcus Holland went 8-46 from long range. Merely being average from three point range would have made the Longhorns look very different.
After shooting exceptionally well from the free throw line last season, this year's iteration of the Longhorns had a hard time at the stripe. Last year's squad had few poor free throw shooters, and several excellent ones, while this season's team included Cameron Ridley (33 percent) and Prince Ibeh (38 percent). Last season, Ridley's free throws were being shot by Clint Chapman, a 78 percent free throw shooter. Adding to this, Papapetrou only made 58 percent of his attempts, an oddly low total for such a good shooter, and Jonathan Holmes only connected on 59 percent from the line. A season ago, Holmes made 72 percent of his free throws.
During the non-conference season, the Texas Longhorns struggled with turnovers. During conference season, turnovers were only a minor problem for the Texas offense. Still, this is an area where the Longhorns can be viewed to have underachieved relative to the norms of Rick Barnes' teams.
The Texas offense helped itself some on the offensive glass, although offensive rebounding wasn't the strength that it typically has been in recent years on the forty acres. Jonathan Holmes' injury surely hurt Texas here, as did Cameron Ridley playing far fewer minutes than expected. Ridley had a very difficult season on offense, which prevented him from playing more than he did, but the Longhorns missed his rebounding when he was out of the lineup.
What is next?
A separate article will look at the Texas defense during Big 12 games.