Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Stats are for losers!" -Pat Narduzzi

Yes, I borrowed a football quote to talk about basketball. The nerdy, glasses push up stat-love that has become so prevalent in college basketball isn't nearly as common in college football land. You likely won't hear a basketball coach make as brash a statement as the ever so quotable Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator for Michigan State Football.

Over the past 5 years, or so, tempo free stats have become all the rage. If you want a sentence capsule, the basic point of tempo free stats are to gauge how effective a team is based on each possession (which takes tempo out of the equation). For an excellent breakdown, refer here http://tempo-free-stats-for-dummies. Ken Pomeroy, stat nerd extrodanaire, is the godfather of the tempo free stats and you can view his impressive array of work at

As a fan, this is great stuff to geek out over. But how useful is it to a coach? First lieutenant in this good fight of basketball analysis, John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus fame, was quoted in his perception that while not many head coach's are into them, the younger assistants are all over it. Well, be that as it may, I found this piece from CAA Hoops telling life as a mid major tempo free stats. Turns out most coach's in the Colonial Athletic Conference, including coaching wonderkid Shaka Smart, pay no or only partial attention to them.

Why is this? Stats, tempo free or otherwise, can help identify areas in which your team is doing well, or poorly. They can tell you the same of your opponent. But they have no context and they offer no solutions. Stats can't tell a coach how to fix a set play that didn't go right, or what to do about your center's free throw shooting mechanics that are dragging down the average. That's where a coach earns his money.

Any coach worth his salary should be able to tell you the reasons for his team's success or failure well before the statistician has his say. Typically speaking, a coach knows the reason his team lost that last game game was because they turned the ball over 24 times and he doesn't have to wait for the stat's guy to crunch the percentage. There is no substitute for a feel for the game. If you need the "four factors to winning" to tell you the reason your team got beat was because you got out-hussled on the boards and your guys couldn't hit a free throw to save their lives, I hear the sport of competitive ping-pong is always looking for coaches.

The real challenge in coaching is knowing how to correct your teams mistakes. That is the key. Tempo free stats are fun for us a fan. It's an activity that we can wrap our hoops starved minds around. It makes us feel like we have a better understanding of our team. For the head coach it can't hurt to take an occasional glance. But if the stats are what the coach needs for an understanding of his team, coach is in trouble.

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