Train Kept a Rollin'

By Johnny Ginter on February 9, 2011 at 1:00p

The Villain was gone. Together with the Shark he had faded into oblivion, and the stunned populace was left to wonder, "What now? Where do we go from here?" Much crying and gnashing of teeth ensued, as fans of the Ohio State men's basketball team wandered the earth in a daze, hoping beyond hope a new savior would arise before vicious Hoosier and Spartan fans consumed the world in their nihilistic wrath. Points, rebounds, assists. All were needed, yet in desperately short supply.

Watching the riots on a monitor twenty floors below sea level, in a bunker, stood two men. One, a bald man of few words. The other, a young upstart with a large booty and a soul full of pure rock fury.

"We must rebuild. But who will lead us in the rebuilding process? Man, it's got to be someone with an inside the paint presence and a sound offensive and defensive system to lead us to a new land. No, not Matta and Sully, we don't have the cognitive capacity to lead OH ALRIGHT WE'LL DO IT"

And when they joined forces (along with a grizzled veteran, a plucky defender, a spitfire shooting machine, a deadeye sniper, and Legolas the Elf) they formed a team the likes of which has never been seen!

And they called themselves... Tenacious B.


Okay, it wasn't that dramatic. Evan Turner leaving after his Junior season was definitely a blow to the Ohio State men's basketball team, but they also had an incredible recruiting class coming in, and many in the media were predicting that OSU might even be better than they were in the 2009-2010 season. As it turns out, those fancy pants media types were right on the money, a fact that several different statistical measurements show in addition to the glaringly obvious: the undefeated record. What is interesting, however, is in what ways the current OSU team is better than the team from last season, and why I think that this team is much better equipped to make a serious run in the NCAA tournament.

For the purposes of this post, we will be using data from Ken Pomeroy. I've mentioned before that Pomeroy, Gasaway, and others have essentially created basketball sabermetrics, and if that seems daunting, it shouldn't. Like baseball sabermetrics, the Pomeroy stats rely on huge sample sizes to create statistical formulas to better understand offensive and defensive prowess with greater clarity. In baseball, innings and at bats are used as the base statistic for pitchers and batters, respectively. For college basketball, offensive and defensive possessions are the base stat. You can read about these stats in greater detail here and here, but in this post I will explain what these stats mean as I use them.

The first and probably most important misconception that I want to dispel here is the idea that Jared Sullinger has wriggled his way directly into the void created by Evan Turner, which at first blush might seem like would be the case. After all, Sully is averaging 18 points a game while last year Turner averaged 20.4. What is different though is how these two players have been used. %shots is a stat that measures what percentage of of his team's shots that a player takes while he is on the court. Last year Turner's %shots mark was an unsurprising 30.7%. This year, Sully's %shots mark is only 25.4%, and in fact, William Buford has a higher %shots while on the floor at over 26% (hilariously, Deshaun Thomas sits at 31.7%).

What this says is two things: one, Jared Sullinger is a highly efficient player who gets to the line often, and two, the 2010-2011 team is much, much less beholden on one player to lean on offensively. Simply put: if you have a starter who is taking over 30% of his team's shots while he is on the floor, you run the danger of watching your offensive slow to a crawl if the main contributor goes down. We saw this happen last year when Turner got injured, and BYU will likely become the poster child for this idea as Jimmer Fredette has a %shot of 35.5%. Ohio State in 2011 doesn't have this problem.

Another stat, Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, measures the amount of points scored per 100 possessions, and in this respect the 2011 squad is actually doing better than last year at a rate of 121.1 points versus 118.6. So on offense, the results are much the same as last year, but with the benefit of having multiple scorers to pick up the slack of the other guys.

But what really sets this team apart from last year is defense and rebounding. Last year Turner and company were allowing just a shade over 90 points for every 100 opponent possessions, which was a good for 24th in the country. That's nothing to sneeze at, but the 2011 team is only allowing 85.9 points for every 100 opponent possessions, good for 2nd in the nation. Due to Aaron Craft being such an incredible defensive presence right out of the gate, we sometimes forget that David Lighty is an amazing defender in his own right, and having these two guys on the court at the same time is a huge, huge advantage.

The Offensive Rebounding %, or the percentage of potential offensive rebounds collected, was not particularly good last year. Evan Turner was a terrific rebounder, but despite having 50 more total boards in 2009-2010 than he did in 2008-2009, he only had 6 more offensive rebounds than he did the year before. By comparison, Jared Sullinger already has 16 more offensive rebounds than Evan Turner had in all of last season. Off. Reb.% last season? 30.1%, good for 263rd in the country. This season? 36.2%, or 45th in the country.

What all of this adds up to is a team that rebounds better, distributes the ball more, and is better defensively than last year. It has all of the inherent strengths of last year's  team, but with few of the same weaknesses. So I'm sold. The 2010-2011 Ohio State Buckeye basketball team is easily one of the top teams in the country, and has the potential to make the people that's in the streets, very, very happy.


Comments Show All Comments

741's picture

Two Kings, indeed.

Natty Light's picture

why is Craft's butt so big in that picture??????????????  I feel like I should make the "dat ass" face

builderofcoalitions's picture

While I agree that this year's team is better than last year's, there are some holes in the data. Remember that Turner was out for a stretch due to his back injury. So, the season's numbers were affected during that stretch as the team struggled. Also affected were Turner's rebounding totals. Although, I don't think any of us would pretend that Turner and Sully are equals on the boards.

Another factor on the defensive end is the overall improvement of the team. For one, Diebs and Buford have really developed into outstanding one-on-one defenders. I wouldn't put them in the Craft/Lighty category, but they're no longer liabilities. Second, the interior defense is incredibly improved. Lauderdale is a much more consistent presence when he doesn't have to put in close to 40 minutes a night. That and Sully is better with his feet than the average freshman big man. Third, Ohio State plays an active yet difficult strategy when they constantly switch on picks, but they are uncanny when it comes to this. Often, it sets up mismatches, but the length of the perimeter players and the sound fundamentals of the bigs overcomes this weakness. I also think the veterans have been playing this style of defense so long, they just do it instinctively.

Either way, nice breakdown. I like this team's chances down the stretch.

Because we couldn't go for three.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Re:switching on picks -- It really looks like they try to get around any screen and stay with their guy for the most part.  I've seen Craft stuck underneath with bigs in the low post!  What's Carr call that?  A mouse in the house?  Anyeay, I'm not sure they actually try to switch as much as they get forced into it.  I see a lot of moving screens not being called but that's a seriously rare call not to mention how hard it would be to get that call from a B1G crew.

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

Well, the reason we have seen better one-on-one defense may be that they moved from a predominately zone D to a man-to-man.  How many years under Matta did we wonder why teams would light us up outside.  This is the best (not most talented) team I have ever seen at OSU. The '99 team, the 2006 team were not this complete.  this is a great team and shoud be at least an elite 8 team when all is said and done. With a little luck, which it always takes, they may make the final four or win the whole damn thing.

KenK's picture

Nice breakdown, Johnny, thanks. This tema strikes me as being better balanced than last year, in all aspects. I think the offensive stats point that out. While Diebler may have stepped it up defensively this year, it seems that his rebounding is a lot better than last year.

I really enjoy watching this team; they play good basketball, seem to have fun doing it, and appear to enjoy one another as team mates.

One player that I wasn't too sure abot at the beginning of the season, but I've warmed up to a good bit recently, is Deshaun Thomas. The young man is putting a lot of effort into playing defense and other than getting burned on a couple back-door cuts, has done OK. I love his eagerness to mix it up and rebound, seems like he plays a lot taller than 6'7". As for his %shots at 31.7; well, he isn't shy about shooting. I think a lot of those attempts are attempted tip-ins and put-backs at the offensive end. Minnesota game comes to mind..

Johnny Hooker: "He's not as tough as he thinks". Henry Gondorff: "Neither are we".

yrro's picture

One of my favorite things about college basketball is watching the young players develop. You can see it with Thomas. Buford was the same way - his freshman year, and even at the beginning of last year, he never met a shot he didn't like. It's so great seeing them work hard at getting better on defense and at playing team offense. I hope Thomas keeps up the hard work and can be full beast mode come tournament time. You've noticed that Thad is subbing him in a lot more and earlier recently than he had been before.

buckeye33's picture

Unlike baseball or hockey where stats, like one run or one goal games, will tell you a lot about a team.  Basketball is all about the "matchups" and home court advantage.  One team can be superior to another, yet doesn't match up well against a lower ranked team and struggles.  That is when coaching and strategy plays a major part.  We have the talent to play with anybody, some teams run & gun, and other take the air out of the ball. We just have to be ready on any given night.

The_Lurker's picture

If some enterprising young (or old) photoshopping genius could insert that pic of Thad Matta into a larger shot of dancers from Michael Jackson's Thriller video, it would be awesome X 1 million.

ColdBuckeye's picture

Thanks; my new screensaver!

The_Lurker's picture

That's pretty damn awesome, right there. If I recall correctly, that video has a move where the zombies sort of put their arms up like Thad is doing, which is what made me think of it. That Thad shot could be as fun as the Ed Hightower photoshops.

LizinNY's picture

Totally off topic, but Jared looks exactly like JJ in that picture. Had to do a double take.

Olentangy's picture

great write-up johnny! keep up the good work- i love this kind of stuff!

How firm thy friendship