There were questions from top to bottom coming into this past season for the UConn Huskies. Could Ryan Boatright step into a leading man role? Could all these new pieces step in for the experience and production which was lost to graduation and the NBA? Nobody knew exactly what to expect from the Huskies, but they were supposed to be pretty good. There was, after all, a lot of talent on the roster.
Boatright was without question the best player on the team, a unanimous All-AAC selection, but it wasn't enough.
But you already know that. You already know the season was frustrating and that UConn failed to win more than three games in a row. You already know the team was inconsistent. Today, I'm going to take a deeper look at the numbers behind the performance and hopefully come up with a few takeaways for next season.
Dean Oliver, a noted basketball statistical analyst, breaks down what it takes to win a basketball game into four factors. These four factors are essentially shooting, limiting turnovers, offensive rebounding, and free throw attempts. This may seem like seem like an oversimplification of a nuanced game, but he has proven these are THE factors. The UConn Blog has explained the four factors for you here.
The first and by far the most important factor, shooting, showed very different results on either side of the ball.
Offensively, the Huskies had a middling effective field goal percentage (eFG), ranking 114th in the country, out of 351 schools. The team had a slow tempo, generating fewer possessions than the average team. When you're taking fewer shots than the average team, it's that much more important that they go in. Too many offensive possessions are coming to mind where the shot clock seems to disappear and someone frantically throws up a contested jump shot.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Huskies ranked 29th in the country. There's no denying this side of the ball was effective, with Amida Brimah altering just about every shot inside the 3-point line.
The turnover factor, which is about half as important as shooting, tells a slightly different story. The offensive side of the ball was more of the same, turning the ball over at an average rate. In terms of forcing turnovers, UConn did so at a below-average rate, on only 17.9% of possessions, ranking 251st in the country.
Offensive rebounding, and limiting offensive rebounding on the other end of the court, failed to meet expectations. Some of this falls on Brimah, who only averaged two defensive rebounds per game. This is because he's trying to block everything within his reach, which is incredible when he can get to it. But when he can't, it leaves him out of position. I don't want to pretend to know more about defense than the reigning defensive player of the year, but we can hope that as he matures, he'll realize that he can't get to every shot and find the right balance on what to chase. This realization would keep him in position to grab defensive rebounds.
Getting to the free throw line is a skill. On the defensive side, the Huskies did a respectable job in limiting the rate at which their opponents' trips to the free throw line - finishing 79th in the country. Unfortunately, in terms of getting to the free-throw line, they ranked 296th in the country. This could mean a couple of things (blame it on the refs!) - but more likely that, again, they settled for too many jump shots and lacked aggressiveness getting to the rim. Not only were they only shooting at an average rate, but they also weren't getting to the charity stripe enough to make up for it.
Luck actually played a major role as well. Though not one of Oliver's four factors and not something you notice or care about when everything is going right, luck determines the outcome of games more often that most of us care to believe. Husky fans may not be surprised to hear that, statistically speaking, UConn played well enough to win more games than they did.
UConn sported a 3-6 record in games decided by 5 points or less. They had a Pythagorean winning percentage (basically the expected winning percentage based off a team's performance) of a team that should have gone 25-10, not 20-15.
Oliver also invented a statistic that measures luck for a team. Part of the metric is based off a team's record in close games. Essentially, it is determined by looking at a team's record and comparing it to its game to game performances. The Huskies ranked 318th in the country in having luck on their side last year.
What this all means is simply that UConn outplayed their actual record. They were a better team than the record indicated, better than that disappointing ending - and with that idea there is some hope.
Despite being basically league average in just about each of those four winning factors of Dean Oliver's, making the Huskies a very average team, they still had a Pythagorean record of a 25 win team - which would have probably been good enough to make the tournament. At that point, anything can happen (see: 14 months ago).
We can see that there was room for improvement in the eyes of the four factors - especially in shooting and offensive rebounding - but once again, the Huskies are losing the senior leader of the team and are faced with questions about whether they can count on certain folks.
Still, now is the time for hope. There is a promising class of incoming freshmen, along with a couple solid transfers as well. Sterling Gibbs had a great season in terms of eFG% and turnover rate, finishing as KenPom's most efficient player in the Big East with a minimum of 24% of possessions used. Shonn Miller promises to bring serious aid to the rebounding department (8.5 rpg last year). So UConn has done a great job of shoring up weaknesses from last year's teams.
With slightly better luck, and expected improvements in shooting efficiency and rebounding, we should see a much better team next year.