So, Why is Duquesne Losing? (Wonkish)

I have long complained about Duquesne’s offense. My primary reservation has been that there is not enough movement and it thus becomes difficult to create open shots. One way of measuring how proficient a defense is in this regard field goal percentage. Teams that don’t give up open shots will likely have less of allowed shots go through the net. The best field goal percentage metric is effective field goal percentage or eFG%. It weighs three point field goals more for the obvious reason that they are worth more points. It follows this equation.

eFG% = FGM /(2PFGA + 0.5 * 3PFGA)

My hypothesis is that Duquesne performs more poorly against teams that are good at contesting shots as measured by effective field goal percentage. Performance is measured by wins and losses. Thus, wins are compared to losses. The independent variable is eFG% and the dependent variables are wins and losses. I gathered all of the Dukes’ opponents eFG% and the result of the game for Duquesne (win or loss).

Below are two tables. The first lists all of Duquesne’s opponents with their respective effective field goal percentages in ascending order.  Average eFG% this season is 49.1%. The second table is a cross tab which shows the data broken down by above and below average eFG% and if the Dukes won or lost.

Team W/L eFG%
Temple W 44.8
Richmond ? 45.5
George Mason L 45.5
Pittsburgh L 45.5
West Virginia L 45.7
Massachusetts W 46
Xavier L 46.1
Dayton W 46.5
Dayton L 46.5
Rhode Island L 47.7
St. Louis W 47.9
St. Bonaventure ? 47.9
St. Louis L 47.9
St. Bonaventure L 47.9
Robert Morris L 48.1
Charlotte W 48.6
Fordham W 49.7
George Washington W 49.8
Saint Joseph’s W 49.9
Northwestern State W 50
Norfolk State W 50.3
Penn State L 50.9
La Salle W 51.4
Bowling Green W 51.4
Wisconsin Green Bay W 52.1
Houston Baptist W 52.3
IUPUI W 53.8
MD Baltimore County W 54.7
Result Above Avg eFG% Below Avg eFG% Total
Loss 9 (64.3%) 1 (8.3%) 10 (38.5%)
Win 5 (35.7%) 11 (91.7%) 16 (61.5%)
Total 14 (100%) 12 (100%) 26 (100%)
Phi: .573 Sig.: .003

Duquesne has won 11 out of 12 contests against below average eFG% teams compared to losing 9 of 14 games against above average field goal defense teams. The phi value, a measure of correlation between the relationship, is relatively high at .573 (highest possible is 1.00). It is especially notable because statistical relationships in sports rarely are that high. Further, showing that the relationship is significant is the the p value (sig.) which is less than .01, a standard measure of significance. The major conclusion to take from this is that Duquesne struggles against good field goal defense teams. It also has played more of these clubs recently which could explain the recent downturn. While there are serious psychological factors at play as discussed in Dave Mackall’s piece, that does not explain everything. This analysis illuminates that Duquesne has trouble with the types of teams it has been playing recently and further, its remaining two games are against above average field goal defensive teams which spells trouble.

Dukes Suffer Bad Loss at St. Louis

Alright, now I am concerned. After a Danny Nee like stink bomb led the Dukes to a 62-51 loss. Maybe the commenters on the message boards are right and the URI loss was just too deflating. I still don’t quite believe that. It seems clear that there was a lack of effort yesterday as evidenced by a slow start and terrible offensive performance. Steve Overbey of the Trib reports,

“This was close to the worst effort we’ve had all year,” Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. “We just didn’t guard the basketball.”

Monteiro agreed.

“We didn’t come out with enough energy to win,” he said.

Everhart and Monteiro’s analysis is apt but the question remains, why? There are clues in Everhart’s statement. “We just didn’t guard the basketball,” the coach exclaims. Was that truly the problem? Ken Pomeroy’s site reveals that Dukes let up only 0.942 points per possession, which is quite a good figure. The problem was not on the defensive end but rather, as has been the issue of late, the offense. The offense was absolutely putrid scoring an absurdly bad 0.775 points per possession and notched an effective field goal percentage of an equally terrible 34.5 percent. This being the case, why can’t Everhart see the obvious? It’s the offense stupid.

I have a theory. Its fair to say that Everhart is a defensive minded coach which has its merits. Defense is only half the game however, and when a team that is based around getting turnovers to score in transition does not, it must get offensive production from somewhere else. That simply is not happening too often. While I have never been to a formal Ron Everhart conducted practice I’m going to venture to guess that much more time is placed on defense and hustle than is on formulating a coherent offense. That is why there is too much standing around. That is the reason for players dribbling in circles 30 feet from the basket. That also is the reason why Duquesne teams miss too many free throws and lay ups. I could be wrong but this logically makes the most sense.

If offense is not made a priority and only the rudimentary structure of a scheme is put in place, no wonder a team fails to get a consistent offensive effort. Teams see other clubs’ style and they adjust. Success is all about adjustment. This goes for players, coaches or any other profession. It seems to me that this team is incapable of altering its game plan when things do not go right. The forbearer of that responsibility must be the head coach. St. Louis got blown out in the previous meeting against Duquesne, so it adjusted and got better results.

Lack of adjustment would also explain the inability to close out tight games and why Everhart’s teams seem to fade down the stretch. The novelty wears off and eventually teams are not blindsided by the up tempo style. Opponents adjust and the Dukes’ advantage is nil. Duquesne must counter those changes with their own alterations, but I don’t know if this coaching staff and players have it in them to do that.

Look, I love Ron and the job he has done at Duquesne. I’m so glad he chose to come to the bluff when it was not a promising job and transform it into something that matters. He deserves primary responsibility for that. The program is light-years better than it was under his predecessor and I hope he stays for a long time. That being said, he needs to get better. He must adjust if he wants this program to become John Chaney’s Temple Owls. Playing one-sided basketball is not enough. More focus must be placed on the offense. As I suggested in the Rhody preview, perhaps he and Jim Baron can do some type of mind meld. Until that point, there will be lots of tough losses like the one at St. Louis. The Dukes have two game left and can easily turn it around and make a nice run in the Atlantic 10 tournament, as Everhart said in a post game interview.

“I keep reminding them that they are the same team that ran off 11 in a row,” he said. “I still think this is going to be a very good basketball team before the end of the season.”

Preview: Dukes at St. Louis

 

Ken Pomeroy’s projection model expects this game to finish with a Duquesne five point victory 68-63. If this game is played in the 60s then St. Louis has a good chance of stealing this one. As I pointed out in yesterday’s scouting report Rick Majerus has been able to win the tempo war against Ron Everhart’s Dukes. The career series is now tied at 3-3 and this game will settle that. Despite the tendency to play slower Duquesne has been victorious in half of the contests including the previous affair which was played at a snail’s pace of 60 possessions. SLU played its worst game of the year at Duquesne turning the ball over often playing into the Dukes hands. Can Duquesne assert its will again?

When the Dukes Have the Ball

Statistic Duquesne Rk St. Louis Rk
Points Per Possession 1.081 72 0.954 62
Effective Field Goal % 53.0% 34 48.5% 135
Turnover % 18.6% 77 21.4% 108
Offensive Rebound % 33.1% 155 30.8% 104
FT Attempts/ FG Attempts 45.6% 34 40.3% 231
Three Point FG % 36.9% 66 35.9% 244
Two Point FG % 51.7% 36 47.0% 142
Free Throw % 62.3% 328
Block % 11.1% 292 8.6% 193
Steal % 7.3% 15 9.5% 160
3P Attempts/ FG Attempts 37.7% 56 21.5% 1
Assists per Made FG 66.9% 5 47.3% 37

I highly doubt that if this game is played at a pace of 60 that it will conclude in blowout fashion. Majerus is too good of a coach to let that happen again. The Dukes notched a solid effective field goal percentage of 51.0% in the game in Pittsburgh including a 6-16 performance from behind the arc. The numbers reveal that the Billikens are not particularly good at defending the three allowing a high 35.9 percent from long distance which ranks 244th nationally. That does not tell the whole story however. Despite the high percentage of makes, further analysis shows that SLU allows the smallest percentage of three point attempts to field goal attempts as a whole. Only a little under a fifth of opposing teams’ attempts are from behind the arc. This implies that they do a solid job of preventing three point opportunities and those they do let up are open shots. This means that Duquesne must not rest on their laurels and expect good opportunities they must create them with good offensive movement like was seen in the first 37 minutes of the Rhody game. That is if this game turns into a grind-it-out affair.

When the Billikens Have the Ball

Statistic St. Louis Rk Duquesne Rk
Points Per Possession 0.971 182 0.917 19
Effective Field Goal % 48.7% 195 46.9% 70
Turnover % 20.6% 196 28.4% 1
Offensive Rebound % 28.7% 287 38.6% 336
FT Attempts/ FG Attempts 33.2% 287 35.1% 117
Three Point FG % 31.7% 288 32.8% 75
Two Point FG % 49.3% 116 45.6% 82
Free Throw % 66.1% 266
Block % 10.4% 261 14.4% 17
Steal % 9.5% 183 13.6% 3
3P Attempts/ FG Attempts 32.7% 172 33.9% 224
Assists per Made FG 59.4% 64 54.4% 162

This game will likely be decided whether or not the Dukes can force turnovers like they did in Pittsburgh. In a 60 possession game, the Dukes forced 20 turnovers or in 33.3 percent of them. If Duquesne can force the Bills who rank 196th in turnover rate into a transition game the Dukes will win. If not, SLU has a shot because they will probably control the tempo if history holds. The Bills lack offensive play makers and are not particularly good at anything as the statistics show. The only positive to pull from the numbers is that Majerus’s club is good at making the extra pass ranking 64th in assists per made field goals. One can expect lots of passes on offense and running down the shot clock.

Final Thoughts

This is another game that Duquesne should win. Today’s contest is a pivotal determinant in where the Dukes will be seeded in the conference tournament. It is likely that URI will lose at least one of their games so the Dukes can maintain their edge on the Rams if they take care of business against St. Louis and St. Bonaventure. Further, this game will show whether or not the Dukes have been affected by their recent losses. It should become apparent pretty quickly much like the UMass game. If the Dukes come out hot they will cruise to a victory. A slow start will likely lead to a close loss. The key is to prove to themselves that they are good team and should win this game and not feel sorry for themselves. We shall see.

Scouting Report: Saint Louis

Rick Majerus is a legendary coach. The jolly fat man did excellent work with his St. Louis program last season as Blue Ribbon writes (ESPN Insider).

Majerus proved last year yet again that great coaches can turn teams with question marks into teams that win. The Billikens had every reason to fail, but didn’t thanks to stellar defense and an uncanny ability to raise their intensity level in conference games.

The former Utah coach has instituted his slow tempo half court game predicated on getting stops on the defensive end and being efficient on offense. Last season the Billikens were chosen to finish 12th in the Atlantic 10. Defying those expectations SLU finished 4th and earned a first round bye in the conference tournament. The Blue Ribbon write up points put that last year’s St. Louis club was a based around its defense as it always is. The Bills gave up a remarkable 0.908 points per possession to opponents which ranked 29th nationally.

Majerus’s teams generally play man but will throw in a triangle-and-two zone look every now and again. The SLU defense is based around forcing tough shots and not forcing turnovers. The primary goal for the Billikens is to prevent open looks from the perimeter. Most Majerus squads do well in three point percentage allowed, including last season.

This year’s club is more solid all around ranking in the top third of division I in Effective Field Goal percentage, Turnover rate and defensive rebounding percentage. Nevertheless, the Billikens are among the top defensive teams in the Atlantic 10 giving up only 0.954 points per possession ranking 61st nationally (Only Temple and Duquesne have a better defensive efficiency in the league).

On offense, Majerus runs a 4-1 motion offense, just like Duquesne, only much slower. Whereas, Duquesne averages nearly 72 possessions per game, SLU plays at nearly 65 possessions per game. These numbers are pretty common for Majerus and Duquesne coach Ron Everhart and they have been noticeable in previous matchups. The games between these two coaches reveal that Majerus has had more success in dictating the tempo.

Majerus vs. Everhart Tempo Battle

Year Pace W/L H/A
2008 72 W H
2009 65.78 L* A
2009 64 W H
2010 64.8 L** H
2010 65 L A
2011 60 W H
Average 65.26

(The games with Asterisks are prorated for 40 minutes because they went to overtime)

Over Everhart’s five seasons at Duquesne, his ballclubs have averaged 72.56 possessions per contest. Despite this, against Majerus’s Billikens the Dukes have averaged only 65.26 trips down the floor. Clearly, Majerus has been able to dictate the tempo. Such is the sign of an elite level coach. The fat guy, who according to SI’s S.L. Price enjoys being nude and calling his players “cunts”, has a winning percentage over .700. Majerus is one of the best college basketball coaches of all time and Everhart is merely a solid average one. Because of this tactical mismatch, Majerus has often been able to take inferior clubs and have success against Duquesne. The series between the two coaches is currently tied 3-3 including two overtime losses (sound familiar Dukes fans).

While Majerus’ SLU teams have been generally short on talent during his tenure they are especially thin this season. The Bills lost their two best players point guard Kawain Mitchell and power forward Willie Reed to sexual assault allegations and subsequent suspensions. There were hopes that prized recruits guard Jordair Jett and center Rob Loe would be able to contribute right away on offense. Such has not been the case. Jett has been used often this season for his slashing ability but his cumulative performance has led to an 80.9 offensive rating (stat that measures a player’s entire offensive contribution). Similarly, Loe has been an unexceptional rebounder and scorer culminating in an 85.4 offensive rating.

Making up for this deficiency against the run and gun Dukes will be tough as evidenced by this year’s previous matchup. Duquesne cruised to a 22 point victory even though the contest only had 60 possessions for each team. Can the defense make up for the offense. Probably not. Majerus will most likely put forth a game plan that will control the tempo but will also not be likely to have the horses to win this race. However, one would be misguided to count any team with an elite coach against a club with an average coach with problems managing games. Also, the game being played at St. Louis adds to the concern. Nevertheless, this is not the same team as last season and will come in large underdogs against a Duquesne club trying to hold on to 4th place in the A-10.

Dukes Lose Heartbreaker to URI

Duquesne falls to Rhode Island after failing to score in the last three minutes of yesterday’s contest blowing a five point lead. This failure to score brings up an inherent problem in Ron Everhart’s offense. The Dukes run a 4-1 motion offense where there is only one player in the post, usually Damian Saunders. It being a “motion” offense, that means there are no set plays only guidelines for players to follow often giving them options. The benefits of this are that a team can have a more fluid offense where each of the players can better feel each other out and more importantly, it is more difficult to defend because there are not preordained movements that can be tracked and adjusted for.

A problem for a team like Duquesne is that with only one post player, especially one who is not a good offensive creator, is that there is a tendency to stand around the perimeter far away from the basket, run the clock down and then force a bad shot. That is exactly what happened yesterday and those are usually the circumstances under which the Dukes’ offense sputters. When four of your players start behind the perimeter it becomes critically important to get penetration. That penetration can come from either a ball handler or someone off the ball. In that regard, the offense was very good yesterday except for the last three minutes. Players were in constant motion, constantly working to get open looks and it paid off. The Dukes scored 1.100 points per possession in yesterday’s game. The offense was not bad except at the end of the game.

How can this be fixed? It seems that when the Dukes absolutely need a bucket they cannot get one. I think this is because there is not one player on the team that is capable or willing to get to the rim. However, that is not exactly true. There is one player on the team that can do this, Sean Johnson. Johnson has shown that he is not timid and is both willing and able to get to the rim and finish. The Dukes need to utilize his instincts at the end of games. That may solve the problem.

Preview: Dukes vs. Rhode Island

Hammer, meet nail. Such has been the relationship between Jim Baron’s Rhode Island Rams and Ron Everhart’s Dukes. Baron’s program has managed to play well against Duquesne in recent years as reported by Paul Kenyon of the Providence Journal.

URI has been able to handle the Dukes in the past. The Rams, in fact, have won the last six regular-season games between the teams, although Duquesne did upset URI in the A-10 Tournament two years ago.

So, of the past seven meetings between these two schools Rhody is 6-1. I have always liked watching the Rams play, their style is appealing to me. URI plays similarly to the Dukes, by trying to speed up the game and forcing opposing teams to make mistakes. As is mentioned in yesterday’s scouting report, Rhody’s defense has improved greatly over the past five seasons mostly due to forcing more turnovers. Baron has relied on full court pressure as the Dukes have but it has always seemed his teams have the edge because the Rams are the superior offensive unit.

That’s not so this season. Duquesne has the more efficient offense while maintaining arguably the best defense in the Atlantic 10. That would imply that Duquesne should be able to handle URI, however there is worry that Baron’s superior offensive mind will allow him to pull a few tricks out of his sleeve leaving the contest for the 4th seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and a first round bye open.

When the Dukes Have The Ball

“Even though URI has backed off much of its own pressure defense, the Rams are still second in the A-10 in turnover margin, at plus 2.85. Duquesne is the leader at a whopping plus 7.36,” reports Kenyon. That seems to be a wise decision considering how well Rhody’s defense has played. What should concern the Dukes the most is the team’s overall size. The Rams run an eight man rotation with 6 players being listed at 6’7” or taller. The only player listed at 6’7” in the Dukes’ rotation is Damian Saunders.

My concern is that the URI defenders will be able, because of their height advantage, to prevent quality shots for Duquesne. If the Dukes having problems shooting they will likely lose this affair considering that when the Dukes don’t shoot well they generally lose. Adding to this trepidation is that the Rams rank 35th in three point shooting defense, so the Dukes cannot simply count on getting open shots.

Fortunately for Duquesne, URI is not a good defensive rebounding club despite their height ranking 240th in defensive rebounding rate. Since there is a good chance that shots will not fall easily Duquesne will need a team effort to crash the offensive boards to make up for any lost shooting efficiency. It will also be critical that the Dukes not just stand around on offense and instead actually run an offense. Rhody has played solid half court defense all season, that is probably not going to change tonight.

When the Rams Have the Ball

If I had my wish I would combine Ron Everhart and Jim Baron into one coach: Rom Bahart. I love Baron’s offense but it seems he focuses too much on that end of the floor. Conversely, Everhart gets his kids to play a high effort defense but he fails to communicate any coherent offensive game plan. If we could take the strengths of both and dismiss the weaknesses we would have one hell of a coach. Chances are however that if Rom Bahart did exist he already would be at a big time BCS program. Such is the life for a mid-major program.

Nevertheless, Baron’s team has struggled on the offensive end. Rhody, which usually runs an efficient up tempo set pattern offense gets several scorers involved, relies heavily on small forward Delroy James who is used in 30.6 percent of offensive possessions ranking him 29th nationally. The Rams have not depended on one player in that way since Will Daniels graduated in 2008. Overall, this year’s team does not have much going for it on this end of the floor. The team is not a good shooting team nor a good rebounding team. Inability to make shots has placed the burden on James to create for himself and everyone else. Such does not spell out success for URI.

Final Thoughts

Rhody’s offense is middling and its defense is good but will that be enough to beat the Dukes. If past experience is any indicator, URI will put forth a good game plan to beat the Duquesne and keep themselves in the hunt for a first round bye. My theory as to why Rhode Island performs so well against Duquesne’s pressure is that since they normally press they know how it works and thus how to beat it. It could easily happen again. The magnitude of his game for Everhart’s team and program is enormous as it would mark the most wins a Duquesne team has ever had in the Atlantic 10 along with it implications regarding conference tournament seeding.

Scouting Report: Rhode Island

This year’s Blue Ribbon College Basketball Preview on Rhode Island (ESPN Insider) says this of the Rams’ chances this year.

If you’re going to pick against the Rams this season because they lost two of their top three scorers to graduation, be warned: Rhode Island has lost seemingly irreplaceable pieces the last two years and improved their win totals. But if you’re going to pick against the Rams because of their suspect defense, you might have an argument.

These words were written by Nate Crossman of Blue Ribbon. Wow, was he wrong. The conclusion he came to was not out of the ordinary, I may have made the same analysis. Over the past five seasons, URI has had one of the best offenses in the Atlantic 10 and the Rams have been able to make up for critical losses of major offensive pieces. What has happened so far this season is exactly the opposite of what Crossman describes. Rhody’s defense has been stout but the offense has been porous. Consider this graph.

The dark blue line represents the points per possession allowed for the past five seasons under head coach Jim Baron. As can be seen there has been a downward trend ranging from awful in the 2006-07 season to good the past two seasons. The key difference over the past few seasons is an increase in forcing turnovers. The Rams’ national rank in turnover rate in these two seasons have gone from 321st to 184th to 144th to 49th to 76th. This trend essentially matches the improved defense overall. It seems that the marginal improvement between the 2009-10 season and this year is an improved effective shooting percentage. URI went from giving up a 50.9 eFG% to a 48.1 eFG%. Considering these metrics, Baron has made great strides to improve his defense to go along with his usually efficient offense.

Despite this improvement on defense the offfense, which as the graph shows has been rather consistent staying above 1.120 PPP the past four seasons has fallen dramatically this season. It appears as if the Rams have not made up for the production of Keith Cothran and Lamonte Ulmer. A New York Times profile of Baron and his offensive style by Pete Thamel describes the coach’s influences this way,

Baron has studied the Phoenix Suns, the University of Missouri and the old-school Loyola Marymount teams of Paul Westhead to try to master the nuances of fast-paced basketball.

Despite this characterization URI’s defense has never been that fast paced. Last season Rhody averaged 68.2 possessions per game ranking 126th and this year the Rams have posted 67.5 possessions per game ranking 133rd. That tempo is not representative of a Mike D’Antoni seven seconds or less offense and certainly not an example of a Paul Westhead four seconds or less offense. Duquesne has routinely averaged under Ron Everhart much faster paced teams. I would not describe the Rams as a run and gun team but rather a program with a very efficient quicker than average offense.

When the Rhody offense was at its zenith in the past few seasons one dependable bright spot was offensive rebounding. Baron’s Rams never ranked more than 64th in offensive rebounding rate and as high as 28th. This season URI is placed 181st in offensive rebounding. That combined with poor three point shooting point to what ails this normally potent offense.

This season it has been up to leading scorer Delroy James to create on offense. James is a 6’8” small forward who can be described as Chris Wright but good. James is likely to touch the ball on every possession as evidenced by his high usage rate (he ranks 29th). The forward is an able slasher, quality offensive rebounder, especially for a three and a decent passer. The only thing is he can’t shoot well from long distance. James’ ability to get to the rim could be better used if Rhody shot better than 31.8 percent from three, but this team cannot seem to utilize the space James creates.

This year’s URI club is not a typical collection of Jim Baron players. Generally, an efficient offense is the mark of the program but this season it is the defense doing the dirty work. Baron may have learned something from studying the fast paced offenses of Paul Westhead but it also seems that he has paid attention to how a quality fast paced defense operates perhaps by watching Everhart’s teams at Duquesne. Up-tempo teams win by creating turnovers. Rhody has successfully done that this season and their 16-10 record demonstrates that. If left up to the offense, this team would be lucky to be .500.

Stats from kenpom.com

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