| March 22, 2018

An advanced statistical look at Idaho hoops’ struggles

January 18, 2013

Idaho coach Don Verlin summed up Idaho’s last four games perfectly in his post-game interview Thursday evening, following Idaho’s 72-66 loss to La. Tech (argonaut print story here).

“I’d like to tell Vandal fans I have a heart,” he said. “But I feel like it’s been ripped out and thrown on the ground.”

Throughout Idaho’s current four-game losing streak the Idaho head man has been visibly frustrated and understandably so. Of Idaho’s four losses each of the games have been within one possession with under a minute remaining – Idaho has lost all of them. Law of averages says Idaho should win at least one of those, right?

There are a few telling statistics and trends from the front-third of Idaho’s conference schedule stretch.

First, for those interested in advanced statistics, a look at Ken Pomeroy’s statistics reveal why Idaho has been struggling in these games and why, perhaps, the Vandals are better than their 6-10, 2-4 conference record.

First is Idaho’s offensive efficiency. Pomery’s system has Idaho as the No. 54 offensively efficient team in the country. This is not surprising. Running its offense through Kyle Barone and Stephen Madison the Vandals methodically run the offense and rarely get into a lull where they are repeatedly taking low-percentage shots.

The statistic estimates the Vandals would score 107.7 points per 100 possessions against an average D-1 team. The issue, however, is the number of possessions Idaho gets to run its efficient offense. Pomeroy also has a metric for ‘tempo’ of the efficiency in which a team gets the opportunity to be on the offensive. The system on tempo rates Idaho No. 297 out of 347 NCAA D-1 teams in the country.

On the surface this isn’t even necessarily a bad thing, teams like Denver and Florida rank behind Idaho since it is as much a reflection of the style a team runs. But here’s the problem with Idaho’s tempo right now — the Vandals aren’t slowing down the possessions of their opponents. The KenPom system rates Idaho No. 269 in defense, allowing the average D-1 average offense to score 105.3 per 100 possessions on them.

To further explain what is plaguing the Vandals we’ll get in to a conventional statistic now : Turnovers.

Idaho has a total of 92 turnovers in conference play, and has had more turnovers than its opponents in each of the six games and have been outscored in points off turnovers in each of its six games.

Offensive efficiency is only as good as the number of opportunities you get at the basket and a turnover is basically a possession in which you don’t get a shot attempt up.

Idaho has yet to get more shot attempts than its opponent in conference play.

In terms of opponent field goal percentage the Vandals are playing well in stretches. Thursday night in Ruston Idaho played a stifling man-zone-movement defense which kept La. Tech from getting many easy looks at the bucket. But when Idaho is letting the ball slip away it gets opposing teams either fast break opportunities or simply more opportunities to set-up in the half-court and it’s the Vandals who are going to get worn down in the second half and eventually concede easier looks to the opponent.

This may explain Idaho’s continued tendency to falter down the stretch in games.

With an opponent field-goal percentage of 42.5-percent the Vandals rank right around the NCAA median in opponent field-goal average.

“You have to figure out why you’re losing. You can’t regress on what you’re doing well, we’re defending very well. We rebound the ball well,” Verlin said. “We aren’t able to secure the ball, our guards are getting a little loose with the ball, they get easy baskets and we end up on the wrong side of the game.”

The backcourt is a spot where Idaho has had issues finding consistency. Junior point guard Robert Harris Jr. has asserted himself in to the starting line-up and while he hasn’t been an offensive juggernaut, he’s done a good job of taking care of the ball up until Thursday night when La. Tech’s full-court press troubled Harris in to a team high five turnovers.

Now, to turn back to advanced statistics a little bit, and some reason for perhaps a little optimism.

In a metric designed for luck — yes you read that right, luck — Idaho is No. 7 in the WAC ahead of Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Denver. How ‘luck’ is calculated is how the teams’ current record stacks up against the Pythagorean metric, which is a team’s expected winning percentage against an average D-1 team.

This metric says that Idaho has been lacking in the luck department.

Idaho’s Pythag puts it at No. 5 in the WAC (No. 142 in the country), behind only Denver, La. Tech, New Mexico State and Utah State. Conveniently, those are the teams that constitute Idaho’s four game losing streak. Teams Idaho could have very well beaten.

Upcoming for the Vandals are Texas-Arlington on Saturday then a Texas-two-step swing with Texas State and Texas-San Antonio at home. Through six games for each of those teams they are a combined 3-15 in WAC play…and all three wins belong to Texas-Arlington.

There’s only one way to find out how the law of averages will treat the Vandals moving forward.


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