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Warning, it's about to get nerdy in here: A sobering look at UConn's efficiency problem

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Lets get this out of the way on top: UConn is a very flawed team. I'm reticent to call them overrated, but only because, frankly, I'm not sure I could compile a list of 15 or 20 teams that I would be confident are better than UConn. This might just be a flukey year, where a team like UConn, which is far from elite, stays ranked and gets to be a paper tiger all season long purely because no one else in the NCAA feels like playing consistently.

Anyway, after Saturday's loss I briefly touched on UConn's efficiency problem, and, seeing as the numbers painted a pretty bleak picture, I wanted to look at them a little more closely and take a look at UConn's (better, but far from elite) defensive numbers.

For the uninitiated, efficiency measures how many points a team either scores or allows per 100 possessions. For purposes of this post, I'll use both the raw efficiency numbers and Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency stat (for which he does some statistical acrobatics that I can barely understand, yet alone explain, but trust nonetheless). I should also note that this post is at least somewhat in debt to cnnsi's Luke Winn, who every year in late December pulls up the efficiency stats to predict who is overrated in December and who will make some serious noise in March (the column is very much worth a read, and certainly worth revisiting in March when you fill out a bracket). As Winn says:

[Efficiency rankings] tend to be quite telling about a team's NCAA tournament potential: In the six years has tracked tempo-free statistics, no Final Four team has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency (a figure that factors in level of competition). And only two Elite Eight teams in the past six years have ranked outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Having a decent offense matters, too, but the data shows just how unlikely it is for a non-elite defensive team to make a deep tournament run.

(Also notable from Winn's column: Villanova is probably in troubles, their adjusted defensive efficiency is 89th in the country. West Virginia is okay at 36th and Syracuse is sitting pretty at 16th.)

Anyway, back to the point at hand, if you look purely at efficiency (which would be foolish, but still, its a key indicator) UConn is not looking great. Pomeroy has them ranked 30th overall (not entirely unreasonable), with their Offense checking in at 91st (raw) and 61st (adjusted). Their defense is better, but it is not a world beater at 51st (raw) and 25th (adjusted).

As I pointed out Saturday, when UConn is inefficient, it usually does not end well in March. Being the optimist I am, I have faith that the Huskies can turn it around and became a dangerous (though again, not elite) team by March, but its going to take work.

I think the real problem is balance. Care to guess who UConn's most efficient player on offense is? Here's a hint: he's ranked 30th in the country in that particular category. It's Gavin freaking Edwards. Yet, according to Pomery, Edwards is defined as a having a "limited role," because he doesn't get involved near the end of nearly enough possessions. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel is involved in a higher percentage of UConn's possession-ending plays (i.e., made shot/missed shot rebounded by defense/turnover) than Edwards is. When you break it down by player, Dyson is involved in more than 30 percent of possession ending plays, Walker in almost a quarter, and Sticks in 22 percent. Add in Tuff McJuice's 17 before you get to 14 for Edwards and you have a team that is relying far too much on quick, athletic players who can get to the rim, but do not take a huge amount of what one would call "high-percentage shots." 

A team simply cannot survive on aggressive driving of the lane or alley-oops (sorry Sticks). As a lot of commenters noted in the Georgetown thread, Gavin has really stepped up his game this year. If he gets a chance to contribute more, he could add some much needed balance to an offense. If UConn keeps letting relying solely on Kemba, Dyson and Stanley Robinson, they'll win quite a few games, including one or two in the tournament, but if they want to go any farther than that, I think it is starting to look like the big three is going to need to become the big four.