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The Mad Geek

The best returning RBs in the Big 12, according to Adjusted POE

Last week, we took a look at how the Kansas University backs ranked in the Big 12 in terms of "highlight yards."

As I mentioned then, "highlight yards" isn't a complete measure of a running back, as it only looks at a back's explosiveness.

Today, we'll take a look at another measure of a running back: his adjusted POE (points over expected).

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The statistic, created by Footballoutsiders.com's Bill Connelly, is a running back-specific measure based on equivalent points.

So how does it work? Each yard line has a point value assigned to it based on the average number of points an average NCAA team scores from that particular spot.

For instance, the average NCAA team scores 2.1 points when it has the ball on the 50-yard line and 2.6 points when it has the ball on its opponents' 40. So when a running back has a 10-yard run from the 50 to the opponents' 40, he is credited with 0.5 equivalent points.

After each carry, Connelly looks at how many equivalent points that back "gained" for his team.

Connelly's Adjusted POE measure, then, compares a runner's equivalent points to what an average RB would have done with the same carries against the same opponents in the same situations. This also takes into account the strength (or weakness) of the offensive line in front of the running back.

It's important to note that more credit is given for yards close to the goal line. To me, this makes sense. Not only is it tougher to run in the red zone with the defense packed in, but I also think RBs should be especially rewarded for getting their teams real points.

Here's how the returning players in the Big 12 stack up according to Adjusted POE. Only players with at least 25 carries in 2009 qualified. Also included is the back's highlight yards per carry, rushes and yards.

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Obviously, some of the names at the top and bottom might be a bit surprising.

I talked with Connelly and had him help explain why some backs ranked where they did in the Adjusted POE rankings.

Baron Batch, Texas Tech (1st in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Batch probably benefited a bit from the fact that Tech running the ball was always unexpected, but his per-carry figures have been great at Tech. Plus, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry against Texas and Oklahoma last year, meaning his 'output versus expected' numbers are going to be pretty good."

Batch also was helped by scoring 14 TDs, which led the Big 12 last year.

Cody Johnson, Texas (2nd in Adj. POE)

Connelly's take: "Short-yardage specialist meant for short touchdowns (Johnson had 12 TDs in 87 carries). Great POE, terrible highlight yardage."

This is a case where looking at a back's Adjusted POE and highlight yards/carry tells us more about the player than the Adjusted POE alone.

Roy Helu Jr., Nebraska (3rd in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Because of both injury and general inconsistency, Helu was all over the map last year. He was great against Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, but struggled against Baylor and Missouri (he was averaging under three yards per carry against Mizzou until a late 41-yard run) and was completely nonexistent over the last four games of the season."

Helu might have been even higher if he had tacked on a few more TDs (he had nine), as his highlight yards per carry statistic was among the best in the Big 12.

Toben Opurum, Kansas (7th in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "He seems like a relatively smart runner who picks his holes and moves the chains, but he is one of the least-threatening backs in the conference in terms of explosiveness."

The 3.5 Adjusted POE tells us that, according to this statistical measure, Opurum was an above-average back in 2009. His high touchdown total (Opurum had nine TDs) helped him earn a much higher Adjusted POE last year than teammate Jake Sharp (-7.4 Adj. POE in 2009, four TDs).

In case you were wondering, here's how KU's backs performed in Adjusted POE in 2008.

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Daniel Thomas, Kansas State (18th in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Thomas was also a bit inconsistent last season. Against a number of bad run defenses, he should have been expected to put up good numbers, but in terms of 'output versus expected,' the benefits he got from averaging 5.5 yards per carry against Oklahoma were offset by averaging 3.4 against Missouri and 3.8 against a terrible Iowa State run defense.

"Plus, he was indeed only average in terms of explosiveness (1.77 highlight yards/carry). He got good run blocking and took advantage of it, but he didn't do a ton on his own."

Probably the biggest surprise of this list. It's worth noting that Kansas State had an above average offensive line in 2009 (more on this in a later blog) and that Thomas had 11 TDs in 246 carries.

Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State (22nd in Adj. POE)

Connelly's take: "I'm giving him a free pass for 2009, since he was hurt almost the entire season. He was dynamite in 2008."

Hunter's numbers in 2008 were indeed impressive, as he posted an 18.4 Adjusted POE and also 2.94 highlight yards per carry. Look for a healthy Hunter to bounce back to his 2008 form this season.

Alexander Robinson, Iowa State (23rd in Adj. POE)

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Connelly's take: "Against North Dakota State, Kent State, Army, Kansas State, Kansas and Minnesota, Robinson rushed 114 times for 691 yards (6.1 per carry) and six TDs. Against the better run defenses on the schedule, he had 118 carries for 504 yards (4.3 per carry) and no TDs.

"So the biggest thing hurting him is that he really didn't achieve anything that any number of decent backs couldn't have done with the carries he got against the opponents he faced. Plus, a lot of the yards he got were credited to the O-line instead of him."

Iowa State's offensive line ranked as one of the best in the Big 12 last year. This seems to be a perfect case of writers (myself included) perhaps giving too much credit to a back and not enough credit to those blocking for him.

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Jayhawks desperately need breakaway running back

The Kansas Jayhawks need a running back that will be on SportsCenter in 2010.

Yeah, I know. Athletes shouldn't strive to make it on the nightly highlights show. And many times, the most crucial plays of the game — and overlooked efforts in the game — never make it to ESPN.

But seriously, the Jayhawks need a guy that can make a highlight-reel run. They need one who can break tackles in the open field and then use his speed to get into the end zone.

They need one because, for the last two seasons, they haven't had anyone who could do it. Friend-of-the-blog Bill Connelly of Football Outsiders was nice enough to pass along some of his statistical findings from the last two years.

He's started to do some extensive work with running backs and has created a statistic known as "highlight yards."

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Here's a brief explanation.

In general, an offensive line is mostly responsible for the rushing yards near the line of scrimmage. After all, linemen can only move so far in a short period of time and can't continue their blocks way downfield.

Connelly created "highlight yards" to help take the offensive line's impact out of a running back's rushing totals. For "highlight yards," a running back is given no credit for a run of 0-4 yards, half-credit for any yards gained 5-10 yards downfield and full credit for any yards gained 11 yards or further downfield.

For example, a three-yard run gets no highlight yards. A 70-yard run gets 63 highlight yards (3 highlight yards for yards 5-10 of the run, then 60 highlight yards for yards 11-70 of the run).

Highlight yards, then, are a good judge of how explosive a back is and how much of his production came without the help of the offensive line blocking for him.

So how did the Jayhawks fare last season?

Here is a list of the each Big 12 player with at least 100 carries last season, showing their highlight yards per carry.

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Now, let me be the first to say that this does not mean that Jake Sharp and Toben Opurum* are bad running backs. Because a team can continue its drive if it gets 10 yards every three plays, there's plenty of value in a back that can keep the chains moving.

* — Opurum actually was a well-above-average running back last year, which we'll get to in a later blog.

This does tell us, though, that KU received practically no help offensively by its running backs in the big-play department.

This probably won't come as a surprise, but KU's longest run by a running back last year was just 30 yards by Sharp. That was the lowest mark in the conference, and Colorado (36) was the only other team whose longest running back run was in the 30s.

But what about Angus Quigley? After all, he's moved back to running back this season and is currently on the top of the depth chart.

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Because he was a linebacker last year, he had no rushing stats for 2009. But Connelly was nice enough to provide the Big 12 rushing statistics from 2008.

Let's take a look. For this chart, all players with at least 25 carries are included. Quigley had 59 carries in 2008.

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Though the numbers are better than in 2009, the KU backs all still ranked toward the bottom of the Big 12 in highlight yards per carry. Though Quigley might provide KU with a bruising back, he doesn't appear to be the breakaway runner the Jayhawks need.

So who will fill that "highlight" role for KU? Let's look at the candidates:

DeShaun Sands: This seems most likely, as the red-shirt freshman is currently second on the depth chart. Sands might be a bit undersized at 5-foot-7, but he would give the Jayhawks exactly what they need: a speedy, big-play threat and also a nice complement to Opurum and Quigley.

Rell Lewis: Though he is still a bit unproven, the 5-foot-9, 205-pound junior has been clocked before at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to Rivals.com. Out of 13 carries in 2009, his longest run was 15 yards.

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Brandon Bourbon: Don't be surprised if one of KU's two highly touted freshmen step in right away. Bourbon, who switched his commitment to KU after originally choosing Stanford, runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and averaged 13.8 yards per carry during his senior year of high school.

“I’m definitely shooting for some playing time, and I think I have a shot to get some,” Bourbon said in March. “I don’t want to seem cocky or anything like that, but I definitely have some things that I’m wanting to get done next year.”

James Sims: The Rivals.com three-star recruit has received less fanfare than Bourbon, but he should have a chance in the fall to earn immediate playing time. The 6-foot, 205-pound back runs a 4.5-second 40, according to Rivals.com.

One of these four running backs needs to make SportsCenter a frequent destination in 2010, or the Jayhawks once again will be missing out on explosiveness that they've already been lacking the last two seasons.

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The easiest way for KU football to get back to a bowl in 2010

At a Kansas football practice earlier this month, I noticed that every position group was working on a drill that related to turnovers.

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Defensive tackles were working on falling on fumbles. Defensive ends worked on stripping the ball on an outside rush. The cornerbacks attempted to strip the ball away from a ball-carrier when double-teaming on a tackle. And so on.

On the other end, KU’s offensive players were working on turnover prevention. The running backs and wide receivers tried to secure the ball while two defenders worked on stripping it away. The tight ends held on to the football after getting banged with pads.

I had never remembered seeing so much work specifically on turnovers during any college football practices I’d seen. So I asked KU coach Turner Gill if he had any specific goals in mind when it came to turnovers.

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“I think we’re probably like most people. Averaging one per game (on offense). That’s counting on us playing 14 games,” Gill said. “Hopefully, we have 14 turnovers from an offensive standpoint. Defensively, hopefully you get into the 30 range — 30-plus turnovers in a season. Then you’re playing some outstanding defense.”

There’s a lot to talk about here. How did the Jayhawks fare with turnovers last year? How do teams fare when they only turn it over 14 times or less in a season? How do teams fare when they force 30 or more turnovers per year? How do teams fare when both of these instances occur together? Can forcing/preventing turnovers be taught? I dug into some of the numbers to see what we should expect from the 2010 Kansas Jayhawks regarding turnovers.

KU and turnovers

Let’s start by looking at the Jayhawks’ turnover numbers from last year.

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In 2009, KU forced 17 turnovers and lost 22 for a negative-5 turnover margin. The Jayhawks’ 17 turnovers forced were the lowest in the Big 12. KU also mustered just seven interceptions, which ranked 110th out of 120 Division-I teams.

Let’s take a look at KU’s turnover numbers compared to other Big 12 teams.

Texas (+9) — 13-1 record
Kansas State (+7) — 6-6
Nebraska (+5) — 10-4
Oklahoma (+4) — 8-5
Missouri (+4) — 8-5
Iowa State (+4) — 7-6
Oklahoma State (0) — 9-4
Texas A&M (-2) — 6-7
Kansas (-5) — 5-7
Baylor (-5) — 4-8
Texas Tech (-6) — 9-4
Colorado (-6) —3-9

In case you were wondering, the Big 12 teams that had a positive turnover margin or a turnover margin of zero posted a combined record of 61-31 (.663). The Big 12 teams with a negative turnover margin combined to go 27-35 (.435).

Obviously, better teams have better players who will force more turnovers on defense and limit turnovers on offense, so we can’t say turnovers “caused” teams to be good or bad. Still, I think the numbers show that turnovers are an important statistic to consider when trying to predict the future record of a team.

The 30-14 rule

I appreciated Gill’s honesty when he talked about wanting to force 30 or more turnovers in a season while keeping his team’s own turnovers to 14 or fewer.

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Make no mistake: Both of those are lofty goals in and of themselves.

Let’s take a look at the teams that forced 30 or more turnovers last year.

Ohio 37 (9-5 record)
Texas 37 (13-1)
Boise State 35 (14-0)
Ohio State 35 (11-2)
Air Force 34 (8-5)
East Carolina 34 (9-5)
Rutgers 34 (9-4)
Middle Tennessee State 33 (10-3)
Iowa State 32 (7-6)
Alabama 31 (14-0)
Arkansas 30 (8-5)
Clemson 30 (9-5)
Houston 30 (10-4)
Iowa 30 (11-2)
Northwestern 30 (8-5)
Oklahoma 30 (8-5)
Oklahoma State 30 (9-4)
UCLA 30 (7-6)

In all, 18 teams forced 30 or more turnovers last season. All of them had winning records.* Those teams combined to go 174-67 (.722). Also note that the two teams in last year’s BCS Championship Game (Texas and Alabama) made this list.

* — It’s important to note that every team above played in at least 13 games, making it easier to get to the 30-forced-turnover plateau. Still, I chose to use turnovers forced instead of turnovers forced per game to stay in line with Gill’s stated goal of 30 turnovers or more in a season.

Let’s take a look at those teams that turned it over 14 times or less in 2009.

Cincinnati 10 (12-1 record)
Oregon State 11 (8-5)
Air Force 12 (8-5)
Alabama 12 (14-0)
Louisiana Tech 13 (4-8)
UAB 13 (5-7)
Boise State 14 (14-0)
LSU 14 (9-4)
Navy 14 (10-4)
Notre Dame 14 (6-6)
Pittsburgh 14 (10-3)
Rutgers 14 (9-4)
Wyoming 14 (7-6)

These 13 teams combined to go 116-53 (.686). Louisiana Tech and UAB were the only teams that posted losing records with 14 turnovers or fewer.

There were six teams above that posted one turnover per game or less. Those teams combined to go 66-15 (.815).

So which teams accomplished both of Gill’s goals last year? Here they are:

Air Force — 34 forced, 12 lost (8-5 record)
Rutgers — 34 forced, 14 lost (9-4)
Boise State — 35 forced, 14 lost (14-0)
Alabama — 31 forced, 12 lost (14-0)

So, of the teams that reached Gill’s “30-14” turnover ratio, half of them went undefeated. I’m sure Gill would take those odds.

Those four teams combined to go 45-9 (.833) last season.

History of turnovers

I know what you’re thinking. The numbers that Gill talked about with turnovers are unreasonable, right?

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Here’s the funny thing: Gill has coached a team that has accomplished that goal. And so has former KU coach Mark Mangino.

In 2008, Gill’s Buffalo team forced 33 turnovers while committing only 14. His team went 8-6 that year — his best season as a head coach.

Let’s take a look at KU’s turnover numbers over the last four years under Mangino.

2006 (-5) — 28 turnovers gained, 33 turnovers lost (6-6 record)
2007 (+21) — 35 turnovers gained, 14 turnovers lost (12-1)
2008 (+3) — 25 turnovers gained, 22 turnovers lost (8-5)
2009 (-5) — 17 turnovers gained, 22 turnovers lost (5-7)

Is it any surprise which year KU was the best in turnovers? Obviously, the 2007 season was greatly helped by such a drastic turnover margin.

Also, those looking to explain the Jayhawks’ late-season skid in 2009 might not need to look any further than turnovers.

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Tack on eight more defensive turnovers last year (the same number of turnovers KU gained in 2008), and you can bet KU would have won at least one of the final seven games that it lost.

Teaching turnovers?

Here’s the big question, though. Can turnovers be taught?

Here’s what Gill had to say:

“We’re going to emphasize protecting the ball with ball security and then take away the ball defensively. That’s what I believe in doing, and I’m firm believer that you get what you practice and you get what you emphasize.”

But by simply running drills that work on forcing/preventing turnovers, can the coach expect the Jayhawks to be markedly improved in that area in 2010?

The answer here is a bit fuzzy.

Here are Buffalo’s turnover numbers in the four years under Gill.

2006 (-4) — 20 turnovers gained, 24 turnovers lost (2-10 record)
2007 (+3) — 19 turnovers gained, 16 turnovers lost (5-7)
2008 (+19) — 33 turnovers gained, 14 turnovers lost (8-6)
2009 (-7) — 18 turnovers gained, 25 turnovers lost (5-7)

If Gill placed an emphasis on turnovers last year at Buffalo, it didn’t show up in the statistics. Not only did the Bulls force just one more turnover than the Jayhawks did in 2009, they also lost three more turnovers than KU.

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College football analyst Phil Steele bases many of his preseason predictions on turnover numbers from the previous year. He has a saying: “Turnovers=Turnaround.” Looking at KU, there might be some room for improvement from last year simply by turning a negative turnover margin into a positive one.

All spring, Gill has talked about putting in a quarterback that will limit mistakes and turnovers. He’s also preached putting playmakers on the field and has run drills that have forced KU’s players to work on turnovers.

It might sound boring, but playing a conservative style that limits turnovers on offense while forcing them on defense might be the easiest way for Gill to get the Jayhawks back to six wins and bowl eligibility in 2010.

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Running it 60 percent of the time might not be bad for Turner Gill and KU

In an interview with WHB 810 on Tuesday, Kansas coach Turner Gill was asked about how often he envisioned his team would run the football.

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"What that percentage is, I can't give that answer right now," Gill said. "If you sit here and say, 'What's your ideal situation?' I would say it would probably be more of a standpoint of being 60 percent run the football and 40 percent throw the football."

Gill did say that he would adjust his offensive philosophy to his talent, especially in his first year. That means KU still might rely some on the pass this year.

But 60 percent runs? When I first heard it, that number sounded awfully high, especially considering the success teams have had with the spread offense in college football the last few years.

So just how uncommon is it for a team to run it 60 percent of the time in today's college football?

Perhaps not as uncommon as you might think.

Let's take a look at some run percentage numbers.

To calculate a team's run percentage, I simply divided its rushing attempts by the combined number of rushing attempts and passing attempts it had during a season.

I understand this isn't perfect, as sometimes, passing plays turn into runs when quarterbacks either scramble or are sacked. Still, I figured these numbers will give us a pretty good glimpse into how often each team ran the football.

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Let's start with KU's numbers. No Jayhawk team in the last 10 seasons has run the ball at least 60 percent of the time. The last time KU ran the ball 60 percent of its snaps was in 1999 (61.8 percent).

Kansas run percentage
2000 — 59.4 percent (4-7)
2001 — 59.7 percent (3-8)
2002 — 52.3 percent (2-10)
2003 — 54.3 percent (6-7)
2004 — 47.4 percent (4-7)
2005 — 51.8 percent (7-5)
2006 — 54.7 percent (6-6)
2007 — 51.8 percent (12-1)
2008 — 47.1 percent (8-5)
2009 — 42.8 percent (5-7)

It's interesting to see just how much KU went away from the running game in the last few seasons. The Jayhawks have seen their run percentage decline in each of the last three years.

So how do KU's run percentage numbers stack up against other Big 12 teams? Let's look.

Run percentage
Kansas State — 62.8 percent (6-6, 4-4)
Oklahoma State — 62.3 percent (9-4, 6-2)
Nebraska — 58.4 percent (10-4, 6-1 Big 12)
Iowa State — 57.6 percent (7-6, 3-5)
Texas A&M — 51.7 percent (6-7, 3-5)
Texas — 48.7 percent (13-1, 8-0)
Missouri — 48.7 percent (8-5, 4-4)
Oklahoma — 48.3 percent (8-5, 5-3)
Colorado — 44.5 percent (3-9, 2-6)
Baylor — 44.5 percent (4-8, 1-7)
Kansas — 42.8 percent (5-7, 1-7)
Texas Tech — 32.3 percent (9-4, 5-3)

Big 12 average — 50.0 percent (5,496 runs; 5,492 passes)

KU was next-to-last in the league in run percentage, leading only Texas Tech.

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If KU would have run it 60 percent of the time last year, it would have been third in the conference behind Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Running it 60 percent of the time also would be 10 percent more than the league average.

So running it 60 percent of the time is crazy, right? Not if you take a look at the best teams from last year's final Associated Press Top 25.

AP Top 25 Run percentage
Alabama — 63.5 percent
Texas — 48.7 percent
Florida — 60.4 percent
Boise State — 52.3 percent
Ohio State — 64.1 percent
TCU — 64.6 percent
Iowa — 53.7 percent
Cincinnati — 43.3 percent
Penn State — 54.1 percent
Virginia Tech — 69.7 percent

Four of the top six teams — including the national champion, Alabama — ran the ball at least 60 percent of the time.

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Honestly, that number shocked me.

So how close was Gill to hitting a 60 percent run percentage in Buffalo? Here are Buffalo's run percentages during Gill's four-year tenure.

Buffalo run percentage
2006 — 51.8 percent (2-10)
2007 — 52.8 percent (5-7)
2008 — 50.7 percent (8-6)
2009 — 51.9 percent (5-7)

The coach didn't come close to achieving his ideal 60/40 run-pass split with the Bulls. His team also didn't appear to become any more prone to the run later in his tenure.

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Though it was a different era, perhaps Gill's run-first mentality came from his days playing quarterback at Nebraska.

Just for fun, here are his run percentages as a player at NU.

Nebraska run percentage
1980 — 80.9 percent (10-2)
1981 — 78.5 percent (9-3)
1982 — 78.1 percent (12-1)
1983 — 79.0 percent (12-1)

So what should we take from these numbers? I would say two things.

  1. KU will run the ball much more this year than it has in years past.

  2. That might not be a bad thing for Gill and the Jayhawks if they hope to someday build an elite team.

For more on the Jayhawks' recent running back surge, check out Matt Tait's "Tale of the Tait" blog.

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History repeats itself in KU’s loss to Northern Iowa

"In the end, a bad shot is better than any turnover.

"I’d expect the Jayhawks, a year older and wiser, will understand this better in 2009-10."

I wrote those words last year in my blog, "The Jayhawks (literally) gave the Michigan State game away," following KU's 67-62 loss to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 last year.

Unfortunately for the 2009-10 Jayhawks, history repeated itself a round earlier and with expectations much, much higher.

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There are a lot of things you could look at when examining why KU fell to Northern Iowa, 69-67. KU didn't shoot well*. Northern Iowa played great defense. And so on and so on.

* — KU's field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage were both higher than UNI's during the game, but that's for another blog.

It seems very few people, though, talk about the turnovers in the game.

As great as UNI's defense was all season, there was one area the team didn't thrive in: forcing turnovers. In fact, the Panthers force turnovers on 20.6 percent of their possessions — NCAA average is 20.4 percent.

So, KU was facing an average team defensively when it came to turnovers. And the Jayhawks had actually taken care of the ball well during the season, averaging turnovers on just 18.8 percent of their possessions (89th nationally).

So what happened when KU was faced with a pressure-packed NCAA Tournament game? The Jayhawks reverted to their 2009 Michigan State form.

KU — which looked, once again, to play extremely tight — turned it over on 24.6 percent of its possessions against UNI, its sixth-highest percentage of the season.

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Again, KU was facing an average defensive team when it came to turnovers; one would have predicted the Jayhawks would turn the ball over a shade above their 18.8-percent average for the season.

So, let's do the math. KU had 61 possessions in the game and 15 turnovers. That means, when the Jayhawks didn't turn it over, they scored 67 points in 46 possessions, or 1.46 points per possession in non-turnover possessions.

If KU would have had its season average of 18.8 percent turnovers, it would have turned it over 11.46 times instead of 15.

With 3.54 more possessions at 1.46 points per possession, KU would have scored 5.17 more points. A two-point loss is instead a three-point win, even with the Jayhawks' poor outside shooting.

Here's what should be frustrating for KU fans: The Jayhawks pulled down the offensive rebound on 47.8 percent of their misses — their fourth-highest total of the season.

So missed shots actually weren't even bad for KU, as nearly half the time, the Jayhawks were getting the rebounds anyway — sometimes in a position to score under the basket.

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KU wasn't hurt by turnovers only on the offensive end, though.

UNI came in as a solid team offensively, only committing turnovers on 18 percent of its possessions. KU, meanwhile, had forced turnovers on 20 percent of its opponents' possessions.

So what happened? The Panthers turned it over on just 14.8 percent of their possessions — a number much lower than both KU and UNI's season averages.

UNI scored 69 points in 52 non-turnover possessions, meaning it scored 1.33 points per possession in which it put up a shot*.

* — Which brings up another point. KU scored 1.46 points per possession in non-turnover possessions, while UNI had 1.33 points per possession in non-turnover possessions. If neither team turns the ball over in a 61-possession game, KU wins by eight. It's hard to argue that turnovers didn't have a major impact on the result of this game.

If UNI hit its season average in turnovers, it has 10.98 turnovers instead of nine. Take away 2.69 points.

If KU forces its season average in turnovers, UNI has 12.2 turnovers instead of nine. Take away 4.26 points.

The numbers get worse if you break down the play-by-play.

In the Panthers' final 10 possessions against KU's full-court press, they turned it over four times. That means in UNI's first 51 possessions, it turned it over just five times (9.8 percent).

So KU's defense, in the first 37 minutes of the game, was forcing turnovers at less than half the rate it did during the rest of its season.

Here's one more statistic: Going against UNLV two days earlier (the Rebels full-court pressed most of the game), UNI turned it over on 27.4 percent of its possessions. Perhaps it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when KU's press worked so well in the final minutes.

If the game would have played out just average in regards to turnovers, KU would have gained around five points and UNI would have lost between three and four points. That's an eight- or nine-point swing. KU would have won the game by six or seven.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Mar/24/Collins.jpg

It was interesting to hear KU coach Bill Self's comments immediately after the game.

"The game came down to one guy, who's a tough, tough kid, making a shot that you would probably never want your guy to shoot, at least I wouldn't," Self said.

It's funny, because the way I look at it, the Jayhawks didn't need to rebound better. They didn't need to shoot any better. They simply needed to get more shots up.

Sure, it was a late-game situation, and UNI probably would have gotten fouled anyway, but more important than anything else was that UNI didn't turn it over on that crucial possession. Ali Farokhmanesh didn't hesitate in putting up a wide-open shot.

Many times, KU's players did hesitate, trying to make the perfect pass or perfect play, which resulted in an unforced turnover.

In the end, a bad shot is better than any turnover.

I’d expect the Jayhawks, a year older and wiser, will understand this better in 2009-10.

I guess there's always 2011.

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Free throws didn’t cost Kansas the 2003 NCAA championship: A convincing argument

I was perusing through KenPom.com on Tuesday (imagine that) and stumbled across something I thought was extremely interesting.

As most everyone around here knows, Kansas went 12-for-30 from the free-throw line in the 2003 national championship game against Syracuse, with the Orangemen going on to win the game, 81-78.

KU made just four of 17 free throws in the second half (23.5 percent), an occurrence that Ken Pomeroy himself later said that, based on chance, had a less than one in 1,000 chance of happening taking into account the 63.3 percent free-throw percentage of KU's shooters coming into the game.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/24/10.JPG

Naturally, everyone blamed KU's poor free-throw shooting for the loss. It seemed obvious to do so.

Chris Bowers has another take on the game. And I think it might just change your opinion on how that championship game was won/lost.

I emailed Chris, and he agreed to let me re-post part of an email he sent to Ken Pomeroy last week. His words are in italics below.

As a Syracuse fan, the idea that Kansas choked always bugged me. Not only does it feels like a swipe at the legitimacy Syracuse’s title, but the numbers don’t hold up. Surprising though it may be, Kansas was actually more efficient from the free throw line than Syracuse that night. Take a look at the play-by-play and box score here.

Kansas went 12-30 from the line, and missed the front end of 2 one-and-ones. Effectively, that is 12-32. However, Kansas also scored 6 points via offensive rebounds on their missed free throws.* So, effectively, Kansas produced 18 points from 32 free throw attempts.

Syracuse went 10-17 from the line. They also missed the front end of 1 one-and-one, and scored zero points from offensive rebounds on missed free throws. So, effectively, Syracuse produced 10 points from 18 free throw attempts.

Kansas: 18-32 for an efficiency rate of 0.5625 per free throw Syracuse: 10-18 for an efficiency rate of 0.5556 per free throw

Thus, Kansas was actually slightly more efficient in terms of effective points per free throw attempt than Syracuse.

The 2003 national title game was actually won and lost at the three-point line, not the free throw line. Syracuse shot 11-18 beyond the arc, while Kansas went only 4-20. Whether or not you consider that to be luck might be another matter. However, as a Syracuse fan and a number cruncher, I feel a lot more comfortable discussing Syracuse’s timely three-point shooting than the illusion of Kansas choking from the line.

  • — Thanks to the magic of NCAA Vault, you can see the three times KU scored off missed free throws here, here and here.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/24/12.JPG

I went back through the box score, and Chris' numbers hold up.

As Chris said in his email to me, "I really think it was about the 3's, not the free throws. People just like to blame free throws because, well, everyone likes to blame free throws."

Thanks to Chris' analysis, I'm already re-thinking my own thoughts on the game that I thought I knew well.

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KU basketball team’s plus-minus rankings paint an interesting picture

Statsheet.com has put an interesting new feature up: plus-minus rankings to go along with every college basketball box score on its site.

For those of you unfamiliar the plus-minus statistic, it simply keeps track of a team's net score when a certain player is in the game.

Here's an example: KU defeated Texas A&M by five on Monday, but during Marcus Morris' 20 minutes on the court, KU outscored A&M by 14. Marcus' plus-minus, then, was +14 for that game.

Plus-minus is a interesting stat that tries to help determine how valuable a player is to his team when he's on the floor.

Before we go any further with our analysis, though, it's important to note the plus-minus stat has lots of limitations. For one, it doesn't take into account the teammates that are on the floor with a certain player. For example, if a player only gets in during mop-up time, his plus-minus statistic might not be impressive because his teammates aren't that impressive.

Plus-minus also doesn't take into account the competition. In a game against Colorado, Sherron Collins might have trouble scoring against a tough defender like Cory Higgins. Meanwhile, Cole Aldrich might have more of an edge inside because of his height advantage.

These two factors (teammates and competition) aren't taken into account with plus-minus, so the statistic isn't perfect by any means.

Still, I thought it would be interesting to see how the plus-minus numbers have turned out during Big 12 play for this year's Jayhawks.

For each player, I compiled their plus-minus statistics for the 11 games of the Big 12 season.

To put everyone on more equal footing, I then went back and calculated each player's plus-minus statistic per 40 minutes of game time. That way, we could compare Jayhawks that don't have equal playing time (like Collins and Tyrel Reed, for instance) against each other easily.

Calculating plus-minus per 40 minutes also allows us to have an "average" score. KU's scoring margin in Big 12 play is 12.4. Therefore, an "average" KU player, over 40 minutes of game time in Big 12 play, would have a plus-minus of +12.4.

Before we get to the results, I want you to predict for yourself who the leaders are on the team in the plus-minus per 40 minutes category during Big 12 play.

In other words, which players seem to be on the floor when KU plays its best against Big 12 opponents?

Here's a random picture so you can think without cheating.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/20/ku.jpg

OK, here are the results.

KU plus-minus per 40 minutes during Big 12 play (11 games)
1. Marcus Morris +18.08
2. Tyrel Reed +16.94
3. Brady Morningstar +16.39
4. Cole Aldrich +14.37
Average KU player +12.4
5. Markieff Morris +11.42
6. Sherron Collins +10.86
7. Xavier Henry +10.17
8. Tyshawn Taylor +8.18
9. Jeff Withey +4.13
10. Elijah Johnson -7.06
11. Thomas Robinson -15.47

Once again, I think it's important to point out these are raw plus-minus numbers. There are many factors that these numbers cannot take into account (though I still think this list is worth looking at).

Here are some things that stood out to me.

Brady Morningstar has been called a glue guy, a role player and a dozen other clichés that try to convey the concept that his contributions go beyond statistics.

His tremendous plus-minus per 40 minute number above (+16.39) would seem to suggest that all of our instincts about Morningstar could be true. The Jayhawks, in all likelihood, are a better team when he's on the floor.

This, of course, brings up the Morningstar-Taylor, who-should-start debate.

In the GameDay Cram Session, I said the switch to starting Morningstar was the right move at the right time for KU coach Bill Self. And I'm not backing off that, even though Morningstar's plus-minus per 40 minute stat above is more than double that of Taylor's (+8.18).

Coaches have to try to get the best out of their players. Sometimes, it takes a coach being tough on players to pull out their potential (see Morris, Marcus). Sometimes, it takes a bit more coddling.

To me, Taylor plays his best when he is confident. And he is confident when he is starting.

Morningstar doesn't need to start to play well. For Taylor, hearing his name before the game might actually make a difference and help him to play at a higher level.

Either way, I expect we'll still see plenty of Morningstar.

The plus-minus above once again shows just how valuable Marcus Morris has been for this team. If only conference play was being considered for Big 12 awards, Marcus Morris would probably have the best argument out of any Jayhawk to earn first-team all-conference recognition.

Placing second on the list above is an impressive feat for Tyrel Reed (+16.94), and I think it speaks most to his defensive improvement. Reed has always been a threat to score, but this season, he's been much more active when guarding opposing players.

Cole Aldrich's number is about what I'd expect (+14.37). Again, we shouldn't overlook the impact Aldrich has for KU defensively.

OK, let's get to the elephant in the room. Collins is below the team average in plus-minus per 40 minutes? Yes, the stat is limited and yes, it's not perfect. But still, shouldn't KU be better than average at outscoring Big 12 opponents with its preseason All-America guard on the floor?

The last two games haven't helped Collins' plus-minus numbers. Against Iowa State, KU was +7 during Collins' 37 minutes on the court, but the Jayhawks were also +7 during the three minutes that he wasn't on the floor.

Against Texas A&M, KU was +3 in Collins' 35 minutes and +2 in the five minutes without him in there.

Collins recent shooting slump could be a factor as well, but it still seems like the point guard's plus-minus should be a bit higher than what it actually is.

Xavier Henry's number (+10.17) isn't too surprising. For a while, his poor shooting seemed to affect the rest of his play, which might be a reason his plus-minus is lower than some other players.

To be fair, Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson's plus-minus numbers are based on a small sample size (49 and 17 conference minutes, respectively). If you're a KU fan, I think you still would at least like to see those guys break even during their minutes in there.

In case you were wondering, Morningstar posted the highest Big 12 single-game plus-minus ranking for KU this season, registering a +30 in the Jayhawks' home victory over Texas Tech. Reed and Robinson tied for the lowest Big 12 single-game plus-minus ranking this year, as Reed posted a -12 in 10 minutes at Kansas State, while Robinson recorded a -12 in eight minutes at Nebraska.

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Examining how pace affects the KU basketball team’s defense

Ready to see something strange?

OK, we're going to have to get a little bit nerdy, but stick with me, because this is interesting stuff.

Here is a graph I charted that shows the relationship between the pace of the Kansas basketball team's games (number of possessions) and KU's defensive efficiency (number of points given up per possession).

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/06/Picture_1_.png

Notice the downward trend? We'll get a little more into what this might mean later.

The confidence level of this data is 99 percent*, meaning there is only a one-percent chance that the trend of this graph is due to chance.

* — In many studies, a 95-percent confidence level is needed to prove the data is correlated.

What's interesting is that this kind of a correlation doesn't happen often. I checked out the Game Plan section for each Big 12 team on KenPom.com, and no other conference team had a correlation between pace and offensive or defensive efficiency with a confidence level of 95 percent or better.

Yet, KU's correlation between pace and defensive efficiency had a confidence level of 99 percent.

Just for good measure, I wanted to test to make sure our numbers were accurate.

Webprince from the KUsports.com message boards (You can read his KU basketball-based statistical analysis on his blog, Sports and Numbers) provided me with the adjusted defensive efficiency numbers from each game. This rewards KU for playing better defense against tougher offensive teams, and penalizes it for playing weaker defense against poor offensive teams. It also takes into account where a game is played (road, home, etc.).

The graph looks nearly the same.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/06/Picture_2.png

The confidence level of this data is 98.4 percent. Again, we have a correlation.

OK, let's take a step back and examine what this means. It could be one of two things.

1. Slower tempo is causing KU's opponents to score more points per possession.

Or ...

2. Correlation does not equal causation, meaning that something else is causing the better opponents' efficiency that happens to coincide with slower tempo.

But what could it be?

Here are two of my own guesses:

1. Though KU is a good defensive team, it does not force many turnovers. The statistics back this up, as KU's opponents turn it over on 20.7 percent of their possessions (173rd nationally).

Because of KU's inability to get those turnovers, teams that are patient don't have a great risk of turning it over, and therefore have a greater likelihood of getting a better shot.

Webprince provided me a statistic that might back this claim up.

Through running his numbers, he found that KU's pace and opponents' turnover percentage was positively correlated with a 95.9 percent significance.

In English? As the pace goes up, KU's opponents' turnover percentage goes up. But as the pace goes down, KU's opponents' turnover percentage goes down.

This would seem counter to what I would guess. You would think fewer possessions in a game would mean that the possessions would be longer. And the longer the possessions are, the more likely a team would be to turn it over against KU.

The numbers suggest the opposite. The fewer the possessions in a game, the less likely a team is to turn the ball over against KU.

Here's a second guess to explain our data above:

2. KU's players don't defend well on long defensive possessions. Hypothetically, this could be because of fatigue.

KU has a relatively short bench at this time (31.2 percent of its minutes come from the bench, which is 183rd nationally). So is it possible that KU's players could be tiring after having to defend for 25-35 seconds?*

* — I know a lot of folks weren't happy with Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik's comments after last game when he said: "Well, Kansas doesn’t want to guard our stuff. They hate that. So, you can’t accommodate them by taking quick shots and letting them off the hook. You need to make them defend.”

He's looking smarter toward the end of this blog, isn't he?

It's interesting to think that KU might want to try to speed teams up not because it will play better offensively, but instead, because it will play better defensively.

Any other theories out there to explain the numbers above?

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55 stats, facts and quirks about this year’s Kansas basketball team

The following are some numbers I found interesting about this year's Kansas men's basketball team.

Make sure to memorize a few so you can impress those around you with your KU basketball knowledge ...

• KU is ranked first in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. In the last six seasons, three teams with the top adjusted offensive efficiency won the national championship (2004-05 North Carolina, 2006-07 Florida, 2008-09 North Carolina). The other three teams that won it all were in the top four in adjusted offensive efficiency (2003-04 Connecticut was fourth; 2005-06 Florida was second; 2007-08 Kansas was second). The top four teams in the statistic so far this year are Kansas, Duke, Villanova and Notre Dame.

• KU is ranked fourth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. In the last six years, no national champion has been ranked lower than 16th in the category at the end of the season. The average NCAA champ has placed seventh in the statistic.

• In Big 12 play, Brady Morningstar has played 14.1 percent of KU’s minutes, but he has 20.5 percent of KU’s assists and 20.8 percent of the Jayhawks’ steals.

• In his last two games, Xavier Henry has posted his highest two offensive rebounding percentages (gathering 11.8 percent of KU’s misses against Missouri while on the floor and 17 percent of KU’s misses against Kansas State while on the floor).

Markieff Morris leads the team with five charges drawn. Marcus Morris is second with four.

• Only three KU players have fouled out this year: Marcus Morris (twice), Tyshawn Taylor (twice) and Markieff Morris (once).

• In his last 10 games, Xavier Henry is 30-for-92 from the floor (32.6 percent). He also hasn’t made more than four field goals in a game during that stretch.

• KU’s worst two games defensively in terms of efficiency also were the two games the Jayhawks played the fewest possessions. KU had just 63 defensive possessions against Nebraska (1.144 points per possession allowed) and Kansas State (1.112 points per possession allowed). The Jayhawks have only given up more than one point per possession in four games this season.

• KU has only scored less than one point per possession in two games this season, and both were from teams from the state of Tennessee (Memphis and Tennessee).

Marcus Morris leads the team in floor burns with 37. Markieff Morris is second with 35.

Cole Aldrich leads KU in dunks (21), while Markieff Morris is second (14) and Xavier Henry is third (13).

• The average KU player has 1.4 years of college basketball experience. That still makes the Jayhawks the 73rd-youngest team in the NCAA.

• KU only gets 14.3 percent of its scoring from its shooting guard position. That’s the 18th-lowest percentage in the NCAA.

• Combined, the Morris twins have made 14 of their 30 three-point attempts this season (46.7 percent).

• KU’s least turnover-prone players statistically (not including Chase Buford or Jordan Juenemann): C.J. Henry (1 turnover every 35.5 minutes); Tyrel Reed (1 turnover every 31.2 minutes); Marcus Morris (1 turnover every 21.9 minutes).

• KU’s most turnover-prone players statistically: Thomas Robinson (1 turnover every 9 minutes); Elijah Johnson (1 turnover every 10.5 minutes); Tyshawn Taylor (1 turnover every 11.8 minutes).

Marcus Morris is averaging 1.82 turnovers per 40 minutes this season. He averaged 3.52 turnovers per 40 minutes last season.

• KU has gathered the offensive rebound on 39 percent of its misses this season. That’s the highest percentage of any Bill Self-coached team at KU.

Cole Aldrich has 75 blocks and needs just 23 more to break Greg Ostertag’s single-season record of 97 set in 1994. If Aldrich keeps up his current pace, he’ll break the record with three games still remaining in the regular season.

Cole Aldrich blocked 9.5 percent of opponents’ two-point shot attempts last year. He’s blocked 13.3 percent of their two-point attempts this year.

Cole Aldrich’s 13 shot attempts against Kansas State were a season-high. He attempted 13 shots or more seven times last season.

Tyrel Reed has scored 77.2 percent of his points from three-pointers.

• In his last 32 minutes, Thomas Robinson has eight turnovers.

Markieff Morris has made a three-pointer in six games for KU this season. The Jayhawks’ average margin of victory in those games is 24.8. Their closest win with a Markieff three-pointer was a 12-point victory over Nebraska.

C.J. Henry has scored 40 points in 71 minutes. If the numbers held up, he would average 22.5 points per 40 minutes of game time.

C.J. Henry hasn’t scored in his last four games he’s entered — a stretch of 12 minutes. Before then, he had 40 points in 59 minutes. That’s 27.1 points per 40 minutes of game time.

Brady Morningstar has had one turnover or less in nine of his 12 games this season.

• KU has been called for three seconds in the lane three times this season. The Jayhawks’ opponents have yet to be called for the foul this year.

Markieff Morris has been the first player off the bench in 14 of KU’s 21 games.

• KU’s bench players have combined for 31.2 percent of the minutes, ranking 183rd in the NCAA.

• KU has only one player in the top 100 nationally in steal percentage (Xavier Henry, 3.8 percent, 84th). In 2007-08, KU had two players in the top 50 in the category (Mario Chalmers, 4.8 percent, 16th; Russell Robinson, 4.2 percent, 43rd).

• Ken Pomeroy’s projections give KU a 22.13 percent chance of going undefeated through the Big 12 season.

• KU’s leaders in fouls committed per 40 minutes: Thomas Robinson (6.7); Elijah Johnson (6.2); Markieff Morris (6.0).

• KU players who foul the least: Sherron Collins (2.0 fouls per 40 minutes); Tyrel Reed (2.0); Brady Morningstar (2.4).

• KU’s leader in fouls drawn per 40 minutes? Thomas Robinson (6.1). Cole Aldrich (5.4) is second and Marcus Morris (5.2) is third.

• KU’s worst performance by a starter in terms of turnover percentage* came from Tyshawn Taylor against Memphis (70). Xavier Henry’s last two games, meanwhile, are second-worst (Kansas State, 57.1) and tied for third-worst (Missouri, 50) by a starter this season.

* — Turnover percentage is an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays.

• If you take out Thomas Robinson’s 16-for-40 free-throw shooting, KU has made 73.6 percent of its free throws this year. That would tie for 34th nationally.

• Since conference play began, KU is shooting 76.2 percent from the free-throw line, which is good for second in the conference.

• In Big 12 play, opponents have made 40.5 percent of their three-pointers against KU. National average for three-pointers is 34.1 percent.

Marcus Morris is averaging 17.8 points in Big 12 play, tying him for sixth in the conference in that statistic. He also has made 62.1 percent of his shots in conference play and leads the league with 4.83 offensive rebounds per game.

Thomas Robinson pulls down the offensive rebound on 16.5 percent of KU’s misses when he’s in the game — the highest percentage on the team. Cole Aldrich (14 percent) is second and Marcus Morris (13.4 percent) is third.

• This year, Sherron Collins has shot the ball on 24.7 percent of KU’s possessions when he’s on the floor. Last year, Collins shot in 30 percent of KU’s possessions when he was on the floor.

Sherron Collins has increased his steals per game from last year (1.23 from 1.09) while also decreasing his fouls per game (1.57 from 1.91).

Tyrel Reed had a 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio last year. This year, it’s 2.7.

• KU coach Bill Self’s record at home during his seven seasons with the Jayhawks is 108-6 (.947).

• This might be a bad sign for March. KU is a combined 20-0 when playing on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ABC, Jayhawk TV, Big 12 Network and Fox Sports Net. But the Jayhawks are 0-1 on CBS.

• KU has shot better than its opponent in 18 of its 21 games this season.

• According to KenPom.com, KU plays the 98th-fastest tempo in the NCAA. That ranks sixth in the conference behind Texas, Missouri, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State.

• KU has shot better than 50 percent in 12 of its 21 games this season. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks have allowed their opponent to shoot over 50 percent just once in the last 95 games.

• KU has controlled 13 of the 22 tipoffs this season (59.1 percent).

• KU has only had one shot-clock violation this season.

• KU has made 84 of 112 free throws (75 percent) in the last five minutes of games/overtime.

Jeff Withey played 12 minutes against Iowa State. He has played 12 minutes in his other five games combined.

Tyshawn Taylor has played 11.1 percent of KU’s minutes, but has 19.1 percent of the team’s assists.

• Per 40 minutes of game time, Elijah Johnson is averaging 15 points, six rebounds, nine assists, seven steals, four turnovers and six fouls.

Sources: KenPom.com, Statsheet.com, Big12Sports.com and the KU men's basketball notes.

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An analysis: Who should shoot more for the Jayhawks?

Many times, Kansas coach Bill Self has talked about Sherron Collins or Cole Aldrich needing to get more shots.

And I've always wondered if that was true or not.

Sure, it's easy to look on the court and see that Collins and Aldrich are two of KU's most talented players.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/aldrich.jpg

But does it actually help KU's offense when those guys are increasing their shot totals? And what about the other major players on the team? Would KU be benefited by having any of them shoot more (or less)?

It's a question I set out to answer using the best method I could think of: statistics.

The following blog will show the correlation between individual KU players' shot percentage and the team's points per possession. I'll try to go one step at a time to explain what I did in simple terms.

First off, if you're not familiar, shot percentage is an advanced statistic that measures the percentage of a team's shots a player takes during the possessions he is on the court. This statistic tells us more than field goals attempted, as it takes into account how many possessions are in a game and also whether an individual played much or not. For example, if Sherron Collins puts up 20 shots in a 70-possession game while playing 40 minutes, that's quite a bit different from putting up 20 shots in a 50-possession game while only playing 25 minutes.

In the examples above, Collins' field goals taken would be the same, but his shot percentage would be much higher in the second case.

As you probably have figured out, points per possession simply is a team's points divided by the number of possessions. It's more useful than the final score, as a team scoring 80 points in 60 possessions actually played better offense than a team that scored 85 points in 85 possessions*.

* — All advanced statistics in this blog come from StatSheet.com.

My goal was to find out if the two numbers were correlated. For example, if Collins' shot percentage was high in a certain game, were KU's points per possession as a team more likely to be higher or lower?

To help illustrate the game-by-game statistics of each player, I plotted each player's points on a scatter plot. An example of this is below.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_1___.png

As you can see, Marcus Morris' shot percentage is shown on the horizontal axis, while KU's points per possession is shown on the vertical axis. The line on the graph is the best-fit line, which helps us to determine the best approximation for the set of data we have.

If you look at the graph, the best-fit line is just barely going up. This would be a positive correlation, meaning, on average, the higher Marcus' shot percentage is, the more points per possession KU scores.

But the line doesn't go up very steep at all. Isn't there a chance that this data could just be a fluke?

For this reason, I consulted webprince from the KUsports.com message boards (You can read his interesting KU basketball-based statistical analysis on his blog, Sports and Numbers) for help to figure out which data was relevant.

I won't bore you with all the details, but in short, we needed to do confidence testing on all the graphs. For each graph, I ran some numbers (with webprince's much-needed help) to determine a confidence level. This confidence level simply states that how confident we are that there actually is a correlation between one player's shot percentage and the team's points per possession.

In many studies, a 95-percent confidence level is needed to prove the data is correlated, but for basketball, webprince told me he prefers an 80-percent confidence level, mostly because a basketball study is a bit different than a medical study.

So in this study, for me to consider making a conclusion, I would need at least an 80-percent confidence level.

Let's examine the three most interesting findings below: The graphs of Tyshawn Taylor, Aldrich and Collins.

Tyshawn Taylor

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_8_.png

Confidence level: 95.47 percent

Most fans have been extremely pleased with Taylor over the last few games. He has played unselfishly for the team, posting 25 assists to go with just five turnovers in the last five games while only shooting an average of five times per game.

So this graph might be contrary to popular opinion, but here goes: The stats say KU is better offensively when Taylor shoots a higher percentage of shots.

Look at the five games when Taylor fired up the highest percentage of shots. In four of those games, KU had its best offensive outings of the entire season.

Interestingly, this trend was the same last year as well.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_5_.png

Confidence level: 87.29 percent

Though Taylor's unselfish actions have been admirable this season, the graphs and confidence levels tell us that KU's offense might be even better if he decides to be a bit more aggressive.

Let's now look at Cole Aldrich. I want to start by looking at his 2008-09 graph.

Cole Aldrich

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_6.png

Confidence level: 94.3 percent.

Remember all those times last season when Self said that Aldrich needed more touches and shots? The stats tell us that the coach was right on with his analysis. It seems fairly safe to say that the more Aldrich shot, the more efficient KU's offense was.

Now, let's fast-forward to this season.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_9_.png

Confidence level: 58.86 percent

As you can see from the extremely low confidence level, Aldrich shooting more shots this season, at first glance, doesn't seem to be correlating to KU scoring more points per possession.

But take a closer look. See that dot to the far right? That's KU's game against Memphis this season.

In that game, Aldrich had his highest percentage of shots taken (31 percent), but KU had its worst offensive game of the year (0.86 points per possession).

After going back to the box score, KU's low point-per-possession total doesn't appear to be Aldrich's fault. The big man was efficient, hitting seven of his 10 field-goal attempts to finish with a team-high 18 points. Many of KU's struggles offensively appeared to be because of a season-high 21 turnovers, not because Aldrich jacked up too many shots.

So, I wondered, what would the graph look like if we took out the Memphis game, which appears to be an outlier? Let's take a look.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_10__.png

Confidence level: 99 percent

Without the Memphis outlier, the confidence level soars. I think it's still safe to say that one of the easiest ways KU can improve its offensive efficiency this season is to continue to feed the ball to Aldrich to get him more shot attempts.

Let's get to Collins. Once again, we'll start with last year's graph.

Sherron Collins

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_11_.png

Confidence level: 82.07 percent

You'll notice something different right away from Collins' graph. Instead of trending upward like Taylor's and Aldrich's, Collins' best-fit line is trending downward.

Because of our confidence level of 82.07 percent (which isn't as high as the others), we could tentatively say that the higher Collins' shot percentage was, the fewer points per possession KU scored a year ago.

There are exceptions, of course. The far right dot, which was KU's game against North Dakota, Collins shot 42.7 percent of possessions, and KU posted an impressive 1.24 points per possession.

For the most part, though, the Jayhawks had better point-per-game showings when Collins shot the ball less.

Let's take a look at this year.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_12.png

Confidence level: 79.21 percent

It's important to note that this graph did not meet our confidence level requirement, so we cannot assume that there is a correlation between Collins' shot percentage this season and KU's points per game. But it's really, really close.

From the graph, we can say this: KU's four best offensive performances have been in the five games when Collins shot the least. That could be due to chance or other factors, but I think it's interesting nonetheless.

Below, I will put the other graphs I compiled in case you want to view them. None of the graphs below had a confidence level of 80 percent or above, meaning there is not enough evidence to suggest that that particular player's shot percentage has a correlation to KU's points per possession.

Xavier Henry

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_14_.png

Confidence level: 66.4 percent

Marcus Morris 2009-10

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_1___.png

Confidence level: 52.2 percent

Marcus Morris 2008-09

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_13_.png

Confidence level: 62.1 percent

Markieff Morris 2009-10

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Jan/06/Picture_15.png

Confidence level: 66.99 percent

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