VCU coach Shaka Smart considers stats guru Ken Pomeroy "a genius." (November 5, 2013)
Since Shaka Smart considers basketball stats maven Ken Pomeroy “a genius,” it’s interesting to analyze Smart’s VCU Rams through Pomeroy’s tempo-free prism.
Pomeroy — here’s my profile of him from last season — ranks Division I teams in traditional statistical categories, with a per-possession twist. For example, the most efficient offenses score the most points per possession, not the merely the most points. Rebounding stats are based not on raw totals, but on the percentage of missed shots a team corrals.
In KenPom’s world, VCU led the nation in steals last season by swiping the ball on 17.0 percent of opponents’ possessions, nearly double the Division I norm of 9.9 percent.
Similarly, the Rams’ full-court pressure created turnovers on 28.5 percent of possessions, best among the nation’s 347 teams and well above the average of 20.0 percent.
“Can we turn people over at a similar rate (this season)? I think we can,” Smart told me Monday. “We just have to remember within our program, because there is a lot of attention paid to our style of play, particularly on defense and turning people over, that the primary goal on defense is to get a stop. It’s not to turn the other team over.
“Obviously a turnover is a form of a stop, and in a lot of ways it’s the most exciting form because you can take a turnover and turn it into a dunk — there’s that iconic picture of (Briante Weber) from last year after he stole the ball against Butler dunking the ball. The picture found itself up in New York City on a bus.
“And that’s exciting and we want to continue to do that, but most importantly we want to stop the other team on as many possessions as we can. So if we get a higher percentage of stops and force a few less turnovers, I’m fine with that.”
Indeed, the Rams’ overall defensive efficiency last season was 45th, meaning opponents that broke the press often scored. Their adjusted field goal percentage defense of 49.9 percent ranked 226th.
Last season’s Final Four teams — Louisville, Syracuse, Wichita State and Michigan — were Nos. 3, 8, 25 and 48 in defensive efficiency. The Wolverines defeated VCU in the round of 32.
Michigan was only the fifth Final Four team in the last 11 seasons below 30th in defensive efficiency. VCU in 2011 was another, ranking 52nd.
A curious contrast for Smart’s Rams: They ranked 35th in offensive rebounding, grabbing 36.6 percent of their own misses, but were 294th in defensive rebounding, allowing opponents to gather 34.7 percent of their misses.
“One of the things that KenPom really believes in is … that it does not make any sense to look at rebounding as a sum of offense and defense, because they’re two completely different components,” Smart said.
I asked him why VCU was so good rebounding on the offensive end but struggled on the defensive side.
“We have an aggressiveness on offense, we shoot a lot of threes, so there’s going to be long rebounds,” Smart said. “We play fast . It’s harder to defensive rebound in transition, it’s easier to offensive rebound. Then on the defensive side of it, the No. 1 reason would probably just be that we’re smaller.”
Two other glaring and related KenPom stats: VCU scored 16.9 percent of his points on free throws, 322nd nationally. The Rams’ free throws attempted/field goals attempted ratio ranked 317th.
“I talked to (Pomeroy) about that,” Smart said. “That’s not something he thinks … correlates with winning. … I do think we’ll get to the line a whole lot more this year, No. 1 because of these (freedom of movement) rule changes and then No. 2 just because of personnel. I think we’ve got several guys that have the ability to get fouled on a regular basis.”
Smart and his assistants recently spoke with Pomeroy in preparation for the upcoming season.
“We pay a lot of attention to KenPom stats,” Smart said. “We use them in scouting and then we use them in analyzing our own team. We actually had a conference call with Ken a couple weeks ago where we were talking to him about some more advanced stats that aren’t necessarily on his website. He’s great. He’s a genius.”
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