Greetings, and welcome to the inaugural edition of "The Month in Big East Advanced Stats." I'm Christopher Novak, Big East Coast Bias' managing editor and resident stathead, and I hope you enjoy reading into these statistics as much as I enjoyed scourging them up from the resources available.
If the 21st Century has told us anything about sports, it's that sabermetrics and advanced stats seem to be gaining more and more traction by the day. It would be naive to completely toss that away to the side. So, in the months to come, you'll find these types of posts, and you'll find the discussion here on this site as well.
In some of the game recaps you've seen here, and halftime notes, I've touched on Dean Oliver's "Four Factors" (Effective FG%, Offensive Rebounding%, Turnover%, and Free Throw Rate) in bits and pieces, and talked points per possession as well. If some of that lingo is unfamiliar to you, fear not: the folks at Basketball Reference have done a terrific job of explaining these terms and many more.
I'm not here to talk down on anyone who doesn't know the terms, nor am I here to push analytics down your throat. These articles are here for three reasons: to educate, to inform, and to enlighten. So let's have some fun, shall we?
Without further ado, let's get the show on the road.
Disclaimer: It should of course be noted that the month of November featured, at max, seven games for most teams involved in this post and, later, the statistical analysis used. It's a small sample size, so please take that into account as you read along.
Via Ken Pomeroy, whose website is a tremendous resource, and if you're an inquisitive stat-lover like me, it's one of the best buys you'll ever get, here's how the Big East has shook out after the first month of the season.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (Points Scored Per 100 Possessions, Adjusted for Opponent)
Once again, all credit goes to Ken Pomeroy's website for these numbers.
Now, what stands out here? To the surprise of what should be no one, the Villanova Wildcats are leading the charge in regards to offensive efficiency. Last year, this team was 24th in the country by season's end in this category, scoring 113.9 points for every 100 possessions they had. They're led by the stellar work of one of their guards -- though it might not be who you think, and I'll get to that later -- and so far they've lived up to everyone's preseason expectations.
The Creighton Bluejays might have lost Doug McDermott, and the remaining 60 percent of their lineup, but their offense is still not to be messed with. The scary thing might be that they're still trying to figure it out from the 3-point line. If their recent trending upward continues on, this could be another great season in the scoring department for the Jays. And, frankly, a hallmark for their head coach.
The most surprising team on this list could be the Marquette Golden Eagles. Last year, Marquette was only slightly above average offensively, scoring 108.6 points for every 100 possessions. That was 96th best in the country. Now, so far this year, they're scoring 104.7 points per 100 possessions which, as it stands right now, is good for 62nd in the country.
The current D-1 average is 99.2 points per 100 possessions, which is 5.1 points off the mark from last year. Is it an anomaly? Or is Marquette exceeding expectations? That's guesswork. But the fact is, right now, Milwaukee ought to be happy with the work that Wojo is doing right now. It'll be much needed when in-state rival Wisconsin comes to town this Saturday.
It's been a bit of a tough month for St. John's and Butler, but the comforting thing for these two teams is the following: 1. Both teams have talent that, with the right coaching, should hopefully overcome these woes. And 2. The woes aren't even all that staggering. Butler's 101 points per 100 possessions mark is 126th in the country. It's slightly above average. As it stands, through November 30, there are five teams (Villanova, Xavier, Georgetown, Creighton, Providence) seated inside the Top 50 in the nation in this category.
After one month of play, the jury finds that so far, the Big East Conference has been darn good offensively.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions, Adjusted for Opponent)
Traditionally, the Big East has been a dominant, defensive conference. In fact, in the 2005-06, it housed 12 teams inside the Top 100 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and 11 teams in the Top 75, and six teams in the Top 50 in the category. As we shift into the second month of the second year of the "new" Big East Conference, we still seem to be searching for the defensive identity of this conference.
The traditionalists appear to be fitting the bill. While Marquette still has lots of work to do to get back to how stout they were defensively under Buzz Williams (the 99.5 points/100 possessions mark stands at 174th in the country) Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John's are all allowing under 95.0 points for every 100 possessions.
The newbies, Butler aside thus far this year, seem to be far away. Creighton wasn't all that good defensively last year, and they seem to still be hovering around the "slightly above average" fingerprint this year. And Xavier, under Chris Mack, has never finished higher than 52nd in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. And so far this year, they're 115th in the country and omitting an abysmal rate at the perimeter and on Effective FG% allowed.
There's also DePaul. But, well, you already know about DePaul, I'm sure.
Going forward, I'm intrigued to see what happens here. Xavier's talent in the front court might be too good to continue to keep struggling. Butler could be playing well above their heads throughout the first few games of the year, but it's very important to remember that under former head coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs were a force to be reckoned with. The only team who had a higher Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rate when they made their first run to the National Championship was USC. With their roster, they may be able to continue to gel despite an absurd amount of turnover in the last few months.
The Four Factors
The leader thus far in Effective FG% is none other than the Xavier Musketeers. This certainly coincides with the fact that they're 2nd in the conference when it comes to Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, as they've certainly been making it count. DePaul is a big surprise here with their marked efficiency from the field, as the offense definitely seems to be getting it going. Defensively, it's St. John's who leads the way here. The Hall is still succeeding with their defensive scheme, even with the loss of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Fuquan Edwin. And the Hoyas are doing very well at disallowing teams to convert on their chances. Marquette, it might behoove you to get things settled defensively with Wisconsin coming to town. Just a suggestion.
No team has been better at corralling rebounds on the offensive end than the Georgetown Hoyas. Joshua Smith's impact on the boards cannot be understated, and everyone seems to be doing their part. Seton Hall's added depth in the front court seems to be helping matters for them, and Villanova and Xavier are neck and neck so far. As far as omitting offensive rebounds, surprisingly Creighton seems to be getting the most out of that, despite a low rate at collecting them themselves. Once again, Marquette appears to be the worst here with DePaul and, surprisingly, Georgetown, right in their territory.
When it comes to taking care of the basketball and forcing turnovers, Villanova may have the best balance of any Big East team. They have a TO% of just 16.0 percent on the offensive end, and they're creating, and forcing errors at a rate of 26.4 percent. Butler has done a darn good job of forcing turnovers as well, with a rate of 25.9 percent in that department. (At least you're forcing turnovers, Marquette) Creighton and DePaul aren't getting much in the way of anything in either department right now, and Providence and Seton Hall appear to be balanced in the worst of ways.
Free Throw Rate
Tip your cap to the Seton Hall Pirates and St. John's Red Storm. Steve Lavin and Kevin Willard's clubs have done a great job of generating free throw attempts in comparison to their field goal attempts so far this season. It's also pretty astonishing how well St. John's has done in limiting free throw attempts, too, as they have the largest disparity between offense and defense of any club in the conference. Villanova and Xavier are leading the way in limiting free throw attempts however, with the Bluejays not too far behind.
A Rookie Sensation
The hype coming into this season was squarely planted on Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead. Justifiably so at that. He was Seton Hall's most prized recruit in many, many years. And though he's still easing into his role, he's got a startlingly high usage rate (29.4%) and an assist rate that jumps out at you, too (29.2%).
However, let me present to you the case for a freshman you might want to get yourself familiar with: Xavier's Trevon Bluiett.
Bluiett is a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, and a 4-star recruit from Park Tudor. Indiana's basketball pedigree does not need to be further discussed, so it should be expected that we should think highly of Bluiett. Bluiett, though, playing primarily as a role player, has sparkled at a tremendously efficient rate.
In regards to Effective Field Goal% and True Shooting%, few are better than Bluiett thus far this season. His eFG% is at a startling 66.4 percent, and his TS% is at an even better 69.6 percent. This gaping mark hasn't been just because he's taking gimme shots at the cup. He's taken 40 2-point attempts, and 30 3-point attempts as well. He's gotten to the line at a good rate also, 22 times to be precise, and has flashed his efficient ways there as well, knocking down all but three of his free throw attempts.
From the traditional standpoint, Bluiett has been terrific as well. He's gotten into double figures in all but one game this year -- that being yesterday's loss to Long Beach State in Anaheim, California -- and is averaging a solid 16.0 points in his seven games played so far.
Seldom do you see a freshman step right in and shoot with high efficiency. For his sake, and the Musketeers' as well, he keeps that going, and perhaps snatches away the Big East Rookie of the Year honors from what was, in all likelihood, the prohibitive favorite for the award.
Villanova's Double Scooped Surprise
You might remember before the season when I deemed Villanova Wildcats guard Darrun Hilliard as the conference's most efficient player.
Well, it looks like my suspicions about his numbers is looking to be true:
Regression to the mean is real, ya'll. And it's not spectacular so far for Hilliard.
His numbers have dipped down dramatically through the first portion fo the season. His eFG% and TS% have dipped all the way down to 41.5 and 44.8 percent. That's a mind-boggling pitfall. He, much like the rest of the 'Cats, have been dismal from the 3-point line, as Hilliard has converted on just 25 percent on long ball attempts this year.
Luckily for 'Nova, it seems as if out of the sky, another player has launched himself onto the page with tremendous efficiency. His name? Dylan Ennis.
With the loss of James Bell, Villanova is looking for Ennis to step in and provide an offensive and defensive threat from the player who won the award for "Best Player in the Big East Conference Not Named Doug McDermott" in the 2013-14 season. It's a work-in-progress so far for Ennis defensively, but offensively few are better on this Wildcats team so far.
Efficiency wise, no Wildcat has performed better other than Daniel Ochefu. Ennis' eFG% and TS% stand at 59.1 and 60.4 percent at the moment. Those marks slot him in the Top 300 in the country for individual players so far. He's been the best player for Villanova from the 3-point line, with a minimum of 25 attempts, as he's shot 40.6 percent from the perimeter. Inside, he's done very well, shooting 56.5 percent on 2-point field goal attempts.
Ennis' remarkable offensive showing has been on display all season. He scored 15 in the Wildcats' big win over Michigan, and dropped 19 in their season opener against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. With any luck, he's another shiny toy for Jay Wright and this Wildcats team to use at their disposal to haunt their opposition.
I don't think Hilliard's going to be that inefficient all season. His overall body of work suggests that he's going to hover around the 48-53 percent mark. So unless he finds himself on the complete polar opposite side of his ridiculous 2013-14 campaign, Hilliard should eventually find his groove.
With an already loaded team, Ennis' sudden leap from role player to leading scorer, and efficient and effective weapon, is not something you'll want to overlook.
Where Does the Big East Stand?
The hottest topic of discussion so far this year has been the brilliant play of the Big East Conference, and where it stands amongst the "Power 5" conferences.
I decided to go through a statistical analysis to see where it measures up. I used Dean Oliver's Four Factors: Effective FG%, Turnover%, Offensive Rebounding% and Free Throw Rate to measure where the conference stacked up.
This isn't an end all-be all measurement, but based on what we have at our fingertips, and our disposal, it's perhaps one of the best ways to see how exactly the conference has done so far through the first month of the season.
Here's what I found:
It hasn't been a banner year in the SEC or the Big 12 from an offensive standpoint. The Big East stacks up quite well with the ACC and Big Ten, who is by far the best team in regards to Effective Field Goal percentage. As a whole, the Big Ten is shooting at a rate of 53.3 percent, with the Ohio State Buckeyes leading the charge with a startling rate of 63.5 percent.
Defensively... it's been a rough go for the Big East. The defensive identity isn't there, and they've allowed by far the worst eFG% amongst themselves and the Power 5. The poor SEC can't shoot effectively, or defend that well either. The ACC is damn near dominant defensively so far this year, and considering the teams in the conference, it hardly comes at a surprise.
If you aren't already following the theme of this presentation, it's that the Southeastern Conference is bad at basketball. No conference come close to how much they've turned the ball over this year, with a rate of 19.4 percent. And surprisingly enough, no conference has been better at taking care of the basketball than the Big East, as they're committing turnovers at a rate of just 18.1 percent. Here we find probably the slimmest disparities, as every conference, sans the SEC, is hovering between 18.1-18.9 percent.
On the bright side for the SEC, they've forced the 2nd-most turnovers among the power conferences, with the top one being -- you guessed it -- the Big East. As a whole, they've won the turnover battle over all the conferences. And this could be one of the biggest reasons that they've been able to thrive early and often in this first month of the season. Much like on offense, sans the Pac-12, everyone seems to be pretty even here.
You didn't think the SEC was going to be awful at everything did you? It's okay if you did. It's completely understandable, really. On a serious note, the ACC and SEC were the two best conferences in the country in OR% in the month of November. The Pac-12 is very close behind, gathering an OR% of 36.2% as a conference this season, and perhaps a bit of a surprise here as the Big Ten has an OR% of just 33.0 percent this season.
Defensively, the Big East is showing its weakness. They are by far the worst, with an OR% omitted of 31.2% this season. The other five conferences find themselves under 29.6 percent, with the Pac-12 limiting teams to an OR% of just 28.2 percent. The SEC, unfortunately, is much like Georgetown: they're grabbing offensive boards, but also allowing them at a heavy clip.
Free Throw Rate
The Big Ten is barely getting to the line so far this season, at just a 38.3 percent rate. By comparison, the Big 12 is netting a distinct amount of free throw attempts, with a Free Throw Rate of 45.1 percent. The Big East stands at 3rd place in this category, with a FTRate of 41.7 percent.
From the defensive standpoint, the Big Ten is succeeding at limiting free throw attempts so far. They've omitted a FTRate of only 31.4 percent this season. So, while the teams of arguably the best conference in America can't stand on its offensive FTRate, it can stand on its collective ability to not allow teams to get to the line when they face them. The Big East is not too far behind -- by a hair at that -- limiting opposing teams to a FTRate of 31.6 percent. And yes, unfortunately, the SEC is allowing the highest FTRate among these six conferences.
So based off this analysis, it's clear that as the calendar has turned to December, the Big East Conference most certainly belongs. While they have struggled in offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding as a whole, compared to their peers, their free throw rate, turnover rate, and Effective FG% (at least on offense) stands amongst the best of the best in the country.
Some might call it a renaissance. Some may say "The Big East is back." Well, don't call it a comeback. They've been there for years.