Inside the Numbers: Wyoming at KU
by Donald Davis

Related pages

Box score

Season stats

Possession analysis

Explanation of NEP

Suppose you have two teams that have identical talent. Which team will win if they were to play each other? There are many ways to answer that question. You could approach it statistically and say each team will win 50% of the time. You can take the ďheartĒ route and say the team that ďwants itĒ the most will win. You could take the home team advantage view and say the home team will win. You could derive a vastly complicated formula based on every jot and tiddle of data yielding a predictor quotient. Heck, you could call your local palm reader or astrologer to get the latest from the stars. If you really want to apply reason and rationale to the problem you could assess each team's game plan and measure each teamís execution. The team with the best combination of game plan and execution will win. Of course, no two teams have identical talent. When you have disparate talent you introduce a third factor. You can come up with all sorts of factors that conventional wisdom tells us should be considered: factors such as home versus away, team morale or chemistry, travel weariness, family or other concerns bothering a player, etc. Each of these are valid and certainly do impact a team's performance. But the way they impact the performance is in the execution of the game plan. A noisy and hostile crowd can disrupt a teamís concentration. A heavy travel schedule can leave players tired and fatigued, leading to poor execution. So at the end of the day, there are three factors which will determine the victor and the vanquished: talent, game plan, and execution.

TALENT: For the casual fan gauging talent begins somewhere around vertical leap, moves through height and weight, and ends in the vicinity of ball-handling. No one will argue an eye-popping vertical leap is a big plus. We will all agree bigger is better. We will no doubt be like-minded that fancy ball-handling is a great benefit. So do these factors comprise an exhaustive list of talent criteria? That is, of course, an absurd question. Talent goes far beyond the fundamental dribble, pass, and shoot skills. Much ado has been made over the years about Nick Collison being fundamentally sound in his footwork, passing, positioning, etc. There are those who have panned Nick because he lacks flare and panache, although he has stepped up the flare factor this year. Nickís effectiveness stems largely from his ďtalentĒ in boxing out, positioning, anticipating, court vision, patience, decision-making, etc. These skills and abilities are just as important to creating talent as the natural physical abilities. Talent can, should, and will inevitably be largely learned. This is demonstrated by the improvement shown by players over the years from freshman to senior.

If talent is learned, then the factors contributing to talent are work ethic, attitude, aptitude, and instruction. At first glance one might be inclined to attribute these to either the player or the coaches. In fact, all four are related to both the player and the coaching. The player comes into a program with some level of work ethic, attitude, and aptitude. Every player also has some level of self-motivation to learn and teach himself. Kirk Hinrich is a good example of a player who strives to learn of his own accord. While a player enters a program with these attributes fairly well defined, an effective coaching staff can and will have an effect on enhancing these. A good coach will spur his players to work harder, help them to learn more quickly and effectively and even enhance their ability to learn.

The main point Iím trying to make here is talent is attributed at least as much to developed or learned skills as natural skills and abilities. How well and effectively a player learns is dependent on the quality of coaching. All this comes into play when a coach is recruiting a player. One reason Roy has been as successful as he is is his ability to spot potential talent and then to turn that potential talent in to actual talent with good teaching. Some players make it to college with high expectations and never really improve. Roy has a good eye for assessing players who possess the work ethic, attitude, aptitude, and teachability. Roy also surrounds himself with a staff that has proven very effective at developing these players by enhancing their talent.

GAME PLAN: What exactly is a game plan? A game plan actually covers a number of areas. For instance, types of defenses and offenses a team practices are naturally a large part of the game plan. This is an example of fixed game plan items. This covers the items that do not really change from game to game. Examples would be a team that typically runs a match-up zone defense (Temple) or a team that runs a secondary break (Jayhawks). These are styles of play that will be part of a team's game plan in essentially every game. The game plan also includes variable game plan items. These are items that change from game to game. Examples would be putting in specific plays to take advantage of another teams weaknesses, focusing on defending certain players, and focusing on a certain aspect of the game (rebounding, ball-control, etc.). One we Jayhawk fans should be familiar with is the old slow down offense. Several years back we lost to UTEP in the NCAA tournament largely because they slowed the game down and severely disrupted the offensive flow of the Jayhawks.

The importance of a game plan is paramount. A game plan should capitalize on the strengths of the players on your team and the weaknesses of the players on the opponentís team. Designing the optimal game plan requires effective scouting, insight and understanding of the scouting data, and communicating to your players. Obviously, better coaches design and implement better game plans. Better players will more effectively execute the game plan. An effective game plan will dramatically increase a teams chance to win. A less talented team will frequently beat more talented teams due to better game plans. We saw a good offensive game plan this year when we played North Carolina. It may not work against KU again, but that day it was a brilliant game plan. Some coaches' game plan is minimal beyond the set plays and set offenses and defenses they typically play. Other coaches design very specific game plans for each opponent. The complexity of the game plan is inversely proportional to the effectiveness of the execution. In other words, the more complex the game plan the more likely the players will do a poor job of executing it. Often times a poorly executed game plan is worse than playground ball because guys can be so out of position. For instance, in the Nebraska game we played a slightly different defense when Mulheisen went out. Johnson is a freshman, and Roy obviously though we could pressure him more effectively. So on several occasions we went into a half court trap. It worked flawlessly and led to a couple TOs. If one of the players was late getting to the trap or if the other three players didnít zone out properly, a Cornhusker would have been wide open and Johnson would have had an adequate passing lane. The result would likely have been a layup or an easy shot. A good game plan takes into consideration the players who must execute it. We have not altered our half-court offense as much as I anticipated with Wayne out and Jeff in. We have run a very similar offense, but there have been some changes. On defense we have not changed much at all. Offensively I though we would see Wayne play a high post more. In fact, Nick has been stepping out more to the high post. In retrospect that does make more sense. I guess thatís why Roy gets the big bucks.

EXECUTION: This is where the rubber meets the road. Superior talent and a good game plan are not enough to win against a fairly evenly matched opponent. Execution is the critical ingredient. As I mentioned above poor execution of a game plan can be worse than having no game plan at all. I go back once more to the North Carolina game. If you notice, whenever a player steps out on the wing, quickly reverses and tries for a back door, he should be picked up by the weak-side post player. The Jayhawks are typically very good at defending the back door cut. Against UNC they completely fell apart. The wing man was a step slow allowing his man a good couple steps on the backdoor cut. Simien and Collison did not step out to cut-off the cutter, and hence UNC got way too many layups. That was not a bad game plan, because it has worked most of the time. It was poor execution. Several years ago we were playing Umass. They were killing us with the high screen and the high pick and roll. A player would come out to the the top of the key and set a screen. The ball-handler would cut around the screen and either stop and pop an open three, or the screener would roll off the screen and the ball-handler would pass to him for an open shot. Our defensive execution was not good against this maneuver. Finally Roy moved Nick Bradford out to the point on defense and the situation got better but not completely, because now we had shifted players to positions that werenít optimal.

Execution is a function of talent as well as game plan. Ultimately execution is a function of coaching. The coaching I refer to is not just on the bench but the 24/7 type coaching. Execution is mental as well as physical. Great coaches have teams that execute well because they inculcate it into the players in every way. Players have to trust the system, trust the coach, and trust their teammates. Players have to be mentally prepared, free of all the sundry issues that can be a cancer to a team. Players have to be physically prepared. They need to be in shape. They need to have the offensive and defensive schemes burned into their mind and muscles. They need to know what to do in any and every situation in a manner that is in concert with their teammates. All these requirements are largely dependent on the coaches. Roy carries 14 or 15 players on the roster largely for this reason. He needs bodies at practice to run the 7 or 8 key guys against. Execution is the key barometer to a teamís success. I would take a significantly less talented group of players that execute flawlessly over a more talented group that plays playground.

Letís assume you buy into all this mumbo jumbo about talent, game plan, and execution. So what? If you begin with these premises, then it stands to reason a team that has these attributes will go far. The Jayhawks have talent (at least 7 deep). Roy has proven over the years to be a master planner. The fly in Jayhawk ointment over the years has been execution. Much goes on that can affect the execution that is beyond the teamís control. Players can get injured or sick (Hinrichís back, Simienís shoulder), or emotional disturbances can arise (tough classes or finals, family tragedies, etc). The biggest bugaboo in execution is poor coaching and bad team chemistry.

I believe the Jayhawks have great coaching. They appear to have great chemistry. We have had injuries that have disrupted our execution, but at the same time has provided Graves a chance to grow and improve, which he has dramatically. That leaves only controllable issues (barring some other tragedy) standing between the Jayhawks and flawlwss execution. With our talent and Royís coaching rolled in with great execution we should go far. Therefore, if I can make a case that the Jayhawks have all three we have reason to be very optimistic.

I donít think anyone will argue we have great coaching. He has been outcoached on occasion but rarely. The greatest evidence is his 0.806 winning percentage. You donít achieve that without some pretty good coaching.

We have talent. Several weeks ago I provided the NEP numbers for the starting 5 of every Division I school. Unsurprisingly, KU was first. We have been lauded by the talking heads as having the best starting five in America. However you want to slice it, you would be hard-pressed to say the Jayhawks are lower than the top 5 of so in the country in regards to starting five.

So that leaves execution. We have faced some tough teams and have played poorly at times this year. What was the cause of these lapses? Will they be repeated? Are they inevitable? Let me show you some evidence that says these guys may be over the hump, well down the road to the promise land. In my opinion the best measure of execution is the PPP (points per possession). The table below shows our PPP and our opponents' PPP for all 15 games this year. These numbers have been adjusted for opponent strength. We have dramatically improved offensively and defensively. In my opinion the PPP numbers below for the last 7 games are outstanding.

Opponent KU Opp
Holy Cross0.9940.636
North Carolina0.7710.761
Central Missouri State0.6531.129
Emporia State0.7931.028
Iowa State1.0400.589
Average 1st 8 0.866 0.839
Average Last 7 1.060 0.690

Just how outstanding are these numbers? Take a look at the PPP for the last 8 seasons. The overall 2003 values are the best for offense AND defense. If you use the 2003 numbers for the last 7 games only it is other-worldly. I canít emphasize enough how well I think these guys are executing right now. I am not prepared to say this is the best KU team ever or anything like that. I will aver these guys are playing as well as any KU team has ever played over the last seven games. I truly believe there is cause for great optimism.

Year KU Opp
2003 (8)0.8660.839
2003 (7)1.0600.690

When Wayne went doen with his shoulder injury, I predicted the Jayhawks would still be strong and there were actually some big positives. I readily admit, Jeff Graves has responded better and quicker than I anticipated. When Wayne comes back this team is going to be scary-good. The tremendous court leadership of Collison and Hinrich is yielding big benefits. Miles is playing as well as any PG in the country, and Langford is on a steep learning curve. Buckle your seat belts. This could be a great year for Jayhawk fans.


By now the Nebraska game is old hat, so Iíll cut right to the chase. Here are the NEP data for the game.


PLAYER OF THE GAME: Kirk Hinrich (duh). Kirk had another great game logging team highs in NEP, n-NEP, NEP rating, minutes, points and steals. His 28 points is only 1 off his career high which he recorded just one week earlier. Kirk is up to 16.7 PPG. His production is very good so far this year but aside from the scoring average, he is down in most other categories. Here is a look at Kirkís stats for each year.


Kirk has an n-NEP of 30.9, which is outstanding. It is down a bit from his last two years. His scoring efficiency is 52.6% which is very good for a perimeter player, but down a bit from his last two years. He has improved his 3FG% to just under 50%. Considering he is shooting more 3FGs this year, that is just fabulous. He is down on both assists and TOs, but his A/TO ratio is also down a bit. Before you get too angry thinking Iím being unfair to Kirk, stop. My point here is not to be critical of Kirk but rather to demonstrate that he has much upside for the remainder of the season. He had the back problem earlier in the year, and that affected his performance. Over the last 8 games Kirk has been All-American caliber. His slow start has turned into a sprint around the front stretch. I expect him to continue to post the same kind of numbers he has posted the last 8 games. Here are Kirkís last 8 games.



Player of the game: Nick Collison!! Before I get into the details of Nickís game I want to give an honorable mention to Aaron. Aaron had another outstanding all-around game. All five starters had nice games. Nick had a team high 33 minutes played. He was 12 for 14 from the filed and 4 for 4 from the FT line to log an outstanding SE of 87.5%. Nick and Aaron both had n-NEPís above 45. These two make a total of 18 single game n-NEPs this year above 45 compared to 22 all of last year. This is significant, because one of the factors that correlates well to victories is when one of the starters has a big game. The really good part about this is these ďbigĒ games are coming from all 5 starters. Even Jeff Graves had a breakout game with a career high n-NEP of 37.38.


Significant Stats of the Game: This is actually an 8 game stat: over the last 8 games the Jayhawks have outscored their opponents by an average of 34.7 PPG. I could not find another 8 game stretch where the Jayhawks accomplished this. Over the last 3 games the Jayhawks have shot 86.7% from the FT line. Wyomingís 44.3% FG% was the best of any of the last 8 opponents. Only California (45.3%) and Wyoming (47.0%) have had a scoring efficiency (SE) above 40% of the last 8 opponents. One area we completely dominated Wyoming was on their offensive boards. We pulled down 83.3% of the rebounds on their offensive glass. That is the third time we have been above 80% on our defensive boards this season compared to 2 times all of last season. The following table shows our percentage rebounding stats for the last 5+ seasons. You can see we are slightly ahead of the rebounding pace of last season. So far this year we are dominating the defensive glass better than we have in many years.

Season %OR %DR %TR

I hope you have caught the vibes I am sending. I am more and more optimistic about this team every game. As long as they continue to execute, they are a championship-caliber team. In my opinion we are playing better at this point than we did at any time last year. The return of a fully recovered Wayne Simien should strike fear in the hearts of our Big 12 foes.

Email DonStats all for now, folks.

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