Saturday, February 4, 2012


MU proof numbers mislead


Sabermetricians attempt to reduce baseball to a series of numbers that define the relative strengths and weaknesses of ballplayers.

Mathematical geniuses, not ex-ballplayers, being trusted to evaluate talent? Not even Rod Serling saw that one coming. He might have thought about writing a “Twilight Zone” script on it, but probably figured it was too far-fetched for science fiction. Serling, no doubt, figured that everyone knows figures lie and liars figure.

A Moneyballer might argue that a player who leads the league in outfield assists has a really strong arm. In contrast, a scout who actually prefers to watch a ballplayer work his craft in a game instead of studying numbers, would know a rag-armed outfielder often leads the league in assists because so many runners run wild on him that he’s bound to throw out some of them.

In general, though, numbers capture a baseball player’s value better than a cager’s. Basketball involves five parts moving in concert with individual match-up elements figuring into the equation. Every baseball play starts with a pitcher battling a hitter. The events that flow from that are important, but secondary to the initial confrontation.

One particular number on the Missouri stat sheet illustrates just how powerfully basketball numbers mislead.

First-year Missouri coach Frank Haith, off to a terrific start, uses this seven-man rotation, listed in order of their field-goal percentages: Ricardo Ratliffe (.751), Steve Moore (.528), Kim English (.512), Michael Dixon (.447), Marcus Denmon (.441), Matt Pressey (.428) and Phil Pressey (.394).

Any mathematician worth his slide rule can tell you that Phil Pressey, Matt’s brother, Paul’s son, drags down the team’s season shooting percentage to .498, which nonetheless leads the Big 12. After all, without Phil’s 175 shot attempts, the Tigers would be shooting .515 from the field. That’s what the figures say. They lie. That figures.

Ratliffe’s high shooting percentage is a testament to his ability to catch what’s thrown to him. Easy shots are created for him because English, who plays power forward, is shooting .495 from three-point range. As Kansas coach Bill Self pointed out, following English to the three-point line removes the double-team against Ratliffe. And everyone gets better shots because Phil Pressey penetrates to collapse the defense and is so adept at finding the open man.

“They’re better off the bounce than any team we’ve played this year, no question,” Self said of the Tigers. “Matt Pressey’s having a really good year, no question. Denmon, Player of the Year candidate in our league, no question. Dixon, unbelievable off the bench, arguably as good a sixth man as there is around. And of course, Kim’s having a good year.

“But little Phil Pressey’s still the guy that drives the bus, and he makes plays with his speed that are very hard to coach. He’s good at finishing himself, but until you watch a lot of tape, I don’t think you really appreciate how fast he is.”

Statistics reveal Phil Pressey leads the Big 12 in assists and steals. They don’t show that he also is the main reason Missouri leads the Big 12 in field-goal percentage.


kusportsdotcom 10 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

kusportsdotcom 10 years, 10 months ago

All this censorship is really getting old LJW. You can't say one negative thing without it getting removed? I've used no profanity, or vulgar or derogatory terms. But still, saying something negative about Keegan is grounds for removal.

Must be Keegan himself monitoring these comments.

Ryan Mullen 10 years, 10 months ago

+100 That was the thing that I really liked or used to like about Keegan is that I thought he was thick skinned. As it appears from all of the removed posts today bashing Keegan he is indeed skinned.

Nathan Scholl 10 years, 10 months ago

What parallels can be drawn from this article? I fail to see what the point of the beginning of this story was.

Jeremiah Holcomb 10 years, 10 months ago

It's really not too hard to see the purpose of the article... If you simply looked at the numbers, you wouldn't put your best defender on Phil Pressey... But if you don't put your best defender on him and slow him down, he'll be able to attract more attention and get his teammates better shots - hence their better figures... That's the simplicity of his point. Don't overanalyze...

Alohahawk 10 years, 10 months ago

I have to agree with the above posters on this one. I normally don't have any problems with Keegan's articles. Don't know that I've ever commented positively or negatively about them. But I found this a waste of my time.

Maybe it was the three to four mumbo-jumbo, lead-in paragraphs that led one to believe some momentous discovery had been found. Not.

Instead, I recommend the two articles/interviews with the former Jayhawks: McGrath and Robertson. I can understand how former players feel the way they do. It's unfortunate that Mucky U. decided they didn't want to play KU anymore. Yes, they're the guilty ones. They made the decision by forcing the issue and switching conferences. If they truly wanted to continue playing KU, they wouldn't have jumped ship. I most assuredly agree that KU should not support them by continueing any competitions against them. Traitors!!

It's said that Mucky U. will gain financially from the split. But they better hope their fans show better support than they do currently, because they'll never attain the same crowds/gate receipts that the closer teams in the big 12 (especially KU) have generated. Their SEC competition will have a lot further to travel. And who is going to want to waste their free time traveling to Columbia, Mo.?

hawkinNE 10 years, 10 months ago

Im the same as you alohawk. I have read on this site many times where people bash keegan. I never felt the need to do it maybe because i havent read all his articles. I feel after reading this at 5 a.m. it has already ruined my day, thanks TK. Just need another jayhawk win and all is forgiven.

JayDocMD 10 years, 10 months ago

Submit this article in any journalism class and it gets a D at best.

JHen3ry 10 years, 10 months ago

Depends. In a beginning class, it might pull a C-minus.

Ryan Mullen 10 years, 10 months ago

The article just kind of leaves the reader hanging. When I was finished I was like ok where is the rest.

davidhook02 10 years, 10 months ago

I created a user name on this site because of this article. It is so irrelevant and unnecessary. Are you even trying? You make no sense at all. The biggest game for the Hawks all year; maybe the last in Columbia, and you soup up some strange professional baseball reference? Let me remind you this is not pro baseball. This is Big 12 basketball. Great you found some nonsensical field goal numbers and filled your article with quotes from Bill Self (about the Tigers)... What are you saying??? C.B. McGrath and Ryan Robertson just wrote circles around you.

mattiesdad 10 years, 10 months ago

Keegan must be married to the daughter of the owner of the paper. How else could he keep his job?

irvan moore 10 years, 10 months ago

numbers are important, the ones on the scoreboard at the end of the game

milehighhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

Sounds like someone just watched Moneyball.

IrishHawk 10 years, 10 months ago

Okay, I'm awake now and the article still doesn't make any sense.

Thanks, TK guess the creative juices weren't really flowing (again)?

You know it's getting bad when your best contributions to media are tossing out softballs to us on the message boards to entertain the masses.

Come on, LJW, we deserve better than this.

mickeykerr 10 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, this is a poorly written article.

patkindle 10 years, 10 months ago

Did you ever wonder what would happen If KU and/or K State had of been invited To the SEC big Dance, and MU was left Alone At home? Would be still be in favor of no more Border war showdowns, or would we Like to keep them going to rub their face In the fact we were invited and they were not? Either way we would still be haughty. Just a thought

jaybate 10 years, 10 months ago

"More Pre-KU/MU Strategic Analysis or Elaborating on the Same as Yesterday"

Take what they give us.

On offense...

They are giving us height.

Take it.

Play the game at the rim.

Make them pay for playing short, just as they are going to try to make us pay for playing long.

Play the game at the rim.

Keep playing at the rim.

Drive to the rim.

Pass to the rim.

Lob to the rim.

Back door to the rim.

Transition to the rim.

The rim is our friend.

On defense...

They are giving us height.

Take it.

They like to collapse the defense.

Give them the mid range game.

Take away inside and outside.

Guard the trey stripe and two feet. No further.

Except for English, they are just 38-39% trey shooters.

If we shut off English and encourage them to take treys at trey stripe+2-3 feet, and shut off their close game, then their trey percentage will fall to 35-37%, their mid range game will be about 48-49%, and we can easily beat that by scoring at high efficiency at the rim on our end.

Chase English everywhere. Switch off Thomas, Justin, and KY on him. Cut English to half his average. Play everyone else straight up and we've can't lose, except for getting fouled up.

Encourage them to drive into our bigs.

Switch our bigs to who ever is inside the trey stripe.

Rotate our bigs to keep them fresh on defense.

Stay tall, while they stay small.

KU will still be tall the last ten minutes and their jumpers will wear down and be even shorter at the end.

Achilles Heels...

MU has these weaknesses.

--outside of English, they are an average trey shooting team that relies on the trey shooting.

Dan Harris 10 years, 10 months ago

We must NOT fall into the trap of shooting too many 3's. We need to feed T-Rob at the frree throw line and let him go to work or dish back out before attempting any 3s. high-low,high-low, high-low them to death!

jaybate 10 years, 10 months ago

--they rely on their shortness and speed to slash and draw fouls; then win games at the trey stripe, where they are a superb 78% FT shooting team. Don't foul anyone on MU but Ratliff, and they cannot win. He is a poor FT shooter and the rest are excellent FT shooters. Little guys always get an edge on the calls on the drives, so our long perimeter players need to understand this and guard them, but not body them, or permit MU offenders to crowd them. Always stay in front of them, but always give ground. Rely on KU's bigs to alter'n'swat the penetrations. The object is to force MU to shoot mid range over taller defenders, backed up by shot alterers, not to rough them up. Encourage them to use their speed to drive into shot alterers. Don't play them glove tight, which is what they want. They want to crowd defenders, where they can get the beneficial calls, because of their short height. FT shooting is a huge percentage of their offense and the main explanation for their good record and ranking. Thus, MU's greatest strength is its greatest weakness if it can be denied them. Our perimeter speed enables us to deny them this. Even our slow subs--Conner and Naadir--can guard them this way, which effectively increases our depth.

--MU can barely guard one of our bigs on the blocks, but not both, unless they play their backup big way more than his average 16 minutes. If they play him big minutes, he will tire and foul out quickly. This is a game for Thomas and Jeff to look for each other immediately to dish. Every possession, one of our bigs will have a one foot height advantage. That could easily generate 60% scoring efficiency, if we play the game at the rim.

-Unless KU let's them, MU cannot rebound with KU, if KU's guards block out their guards. MU rebounds with 4 guards, not Ratliffe, their big. Their guards quickness is perhaps hardest to contain on rebounding. But if our longer guards can stay with their guards on defensive rebounds, we can deny them second shots almost completely.

--posting up positions 1 through 4 on MU. Posting up Pressey is absolutely MU's most vulnerable spot for a single basket and denies Pressey's ability to disrupt the dribble off TT.

jaybate 10 years, 10 months ago

--All deep teams, like this MU team, or last season's KU team, have the strength of depth, which can quickly become their Achilles Heels. Depth, perhaps more than any other attribute in basketball today, is a double edged sword. Depth is a great, great advantage for hedging risk. Depth solves fouling problems. Depth solves injury problems. Depth reduces fatigue late in the game. And so on. But when a deep team comes up against a team with a starting 5 good enough to require the deep team to keep its best five on the floor to win the game, suddenly, that depth is not only no longer an advantage, but it becomes a disadvantage, too. Why? Because teams that have been rotating two players at each of two, three, or four positions all season, have not been conditioning their best five to go 35-40 minutes in a big game. Up to now, MU has been rotating players at the 1, 2, and 3 positions in order to keep them fresh, and keep them penetrating, and keep them drawing fouls, especially the last ten minutes of games, when fresh little guys look so much faster, than tired big guys, and the refs resume whistling fouls, after having gotten the games fixed into the broadcast windows by swallowing the whistle for the middle 20 minutes of the game. I have a hunch that MU's biggest advantage in fouls called comes the last ten minutes of most games. But if KU's super talented starting 3 perimeter players, who have had to play 35-40 minutes most games, can avoid fouling, and so force MU to have to stay with its best perimeter players, then suddenly, MU has real problems. Its best perimeter players are not conditioned physically, or mentally to go 40 minutes. To guard for 35 seconds for 40 minutes. To slash for 40 minutes. To transition for 40 minutes. Suddenly, as happened to KU against VCU, last season, MU's starting perimeter players have to play 40 minutes, or roughly 10-15 minutes outside their envelopes. This introduces them to fatigue. This fatigue saps their two edges: penetration speed, and jump shooting from trey. Fatigue reduces their ability to draw fouls. Fatigue reduces their ability to jump shoot well either near, or from trey. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

KU's weaknesses are:

--Lack of depth outside. We have no subs that can keep up with their first seven guys on the perimeter. If our guys try to guard too tight, they will get fouled up and our goose will be cooked.

--Withey's injured left leg, which makes him very vulnerable to being driven on, and makes it tough for him to hedge and chase without fouling. We can play without Withey, but we lose a ton on offense.

--KU's streaky trey shooting.

jaybate 10 years, 10 months ago

--Unfamiliarity with playing a 4 guard offense. Self's teams struggle against unfamiliar systems the first few times they see them, because everything with a Self team starts with defense, and it is hardest to guard an offense that you have not seen, or see but once every few seasons. It is not so much the player's unfamiliarity, but Self's unfamiliarity that hurts. Self is a genius at scheming defenses, once he sees the flaws that opponents expose in his existing m2m schemes. But he is not a genius at anticipating what weaknesses will be exposed. Like many great strategists, he is experience driven; and as with many great strategists, that is both Self's biggest strength and biggest achilles heel. Confront him with a team playing an offense he has not seen before, and he likely cannot anticipate clearly what the problems will be that it will generate, even with lots of game tape, and so effectively rescheme his defense to fix the weaknesses preemptively. He has to see the problems exposed in his defense, before he can set about accurately and ingeniously solving them. It is an odd blind spot for someone who seems so savant like about defense, but its there. We saw it against Princeton and other ball screening offenses early. Early on, KU barely got by these teams and had to have a ton more talent to get by. It took Self about 2-3 seasons of seeing it a couple times each season to figure out how to beat a Princeton system, but now KU almost never struggles much against these sorts of systems. The same thing occurs on offense. Early in Self's tenure, maybe even up to two seasons ago, Self's KU teams struggles mightily attacking zone defenses. But over time, Self has figured out how to coach players to attack zone defenses, and now KU is almost more effective against zones than m2m. Self learns. Self "gets better." But he requires experience and that experience is often bitter early on. I do not recall KU playing a 4 guard offense before in Self's tenure. So: scheming to defend it could be difficult for Self. He has probably never seen one of these before. I don't recall a good one, since at least back to Wooden's '64 NCAA champions. You can bet Frank Haith has studied Wooden's '64 team closely, or he has had experience with another such team that I cannot recall. Haith has made all the right moves that Wooden made with his great short team and is even deeper than Wooden's great short team.

jaybate 10 years, 10 months ago

The Key Edges:

KU has these advantages.

--Posting guards: Self does not like posting up guards, but if he does not do this, he is refusing to take what is given and will likely regret it. Pressey is 5-10. Tyshawn is 6-3. That is a 5 inch height advantage with our best player. That is more MUA than Thomas or Withey hold on Ratliff, but not as much as Thomas or Withey will hold on the short player guarding whomever Ratliff is not guarding. Posting TT up on Pressey also denies Pressey's strength as an on ball stripper. Dribble driving on Pressey plays straight to his agility advantage and to his lightening quick hands. It is the dumb play, even though TT has huge first step advantage, because of the length of his stride. TT trying to drive on Pressey frequently will either generate TOs, or fouls, i.e., get TT in foul trouble early. KU needs to minimize both. The best move is to have EJ play point, line up Jeff and TRob on the left side of the lane on the blocks, have TT loop around and scrape Pressey off Jeff and TRob, and receive the feed on the low block. As Pressey chases to guard TT, TT pivots and goes straight up, or pump fakes to draw the foul and goes straight up. This is a certain two points every play, probably 3. Pressey quickly gets in foul trouble. Any misses are sure stick backs by TRob or Jeff. Pressey's disruption on defense is marginalized. He plays out of his comfort zone. His offensive performance eventually cracks. MU's offense grows inefficient. KU wins.

--having the four step out and posting up Travis.

--which ever big is guarded one on one.

--which ever big is guarded by a sag of 3 short defenders.

MU has this one advantage.

--Speed and Depth on the Perimeter: if its speed and depth at the 1, 2, and 3 positions can get KU's perimeter starters fouled-up, then KU cannot play its game and MU can; that equals an MU win, unless Self has schemed a very good zone defense in anticipation of this problem, and unless he is willing to resort to it in a timely fashion; i.e., as soon as the first KU perimeter player gets fouled up. KU could play through one of its starting bigs getting fouled up, though MU could make this very difficult for short stretches by bringing both Ratliff and Moore, if, say, TRob gets fouled up. But this would require MU to play KU's game, and that would unlikely be Haith's response. In big games, coach's stay with what "brung'em" there. In MU's case, that would be pressing the speed and numbers advantage on the perimeter to achieve decisive edges in trey shooting and FT shooting.

Cmill1221 10 years, 10 months ago

DUDE... The Gettysburg Address only had 270 words in it.

justanotherfan 10 years, 10 months ago


Usually I am in your corner, but I think you really miss the mark on this one. MU has no depth whatsoever on this team. They play the following guys - P. Pressey, M. Pressey, English, Denmon, Ratliffe, Dixon and Moore. That's basically it for them. Those seven have played in all 23 games. Nobody else on the roster has played in half the games.

MU's advantage isn't depth. It's the fact that they force you to play their style. We couldn't exploit their lack of size because we were one guard short all night. Asking Robinson or Withey to try and chase around English or Matt Pressey didn't work. So we had to go small and they had the better group of small guys. If you compared MU's guards (Pressey, Pressey, English, Dixon, Denmon) to ours (Taylor, Johnson, Releford, Teahan, Tharpe) you see the advantage pretty clearly.

Put it this way, if you offered Frank Haith a straight up trade of one of his guys on that list for one of ours, but excluded Taylor, I doubt Haith even continues the conversation with you. Taylor may be the best player out of that group (debatable with both Denmon and English), but Saturday night, it looked like MU had 5 of the 6 next best guards.

Steve Brown 10 years, 10 months ago

reading the article half way, I anticipated it was going to the very good point that shooting percentage should be weighted that in the paint 60% isn't as strong as a 47% from the arc, but not only did the article not go there, it didn't go anywhere.

'Kansas' or 'University of Kansas' both are correct.

Kansas University does not exist.

minnhawk84 10 years, 10 months ago

Ok, but then why do we refer to the University of Kansas as KU? Why is it on the helmets, sports gear, and on the chest of the Jayhawk?

Steve Brown 10 years, 10 months ago

good question.

William Allen White school of Journalism, during the Haldeman & Ehrlichman era taught us that KU was an accepted abbrv. for The University of Kansas.

We were told that for the UDK we could also use "Kansas" as in, "The University of Kansas took the field shortly after Kansas won the toss accepted the ball and scored in the first play to give KU the early lead.

That and no run on sentences.

So minn84, I don't got no bananas, just whut we was told by dem dat know.

Jim Roth 10 years, 10 months ago

I've probably read every Keegan basketball article since he joined the Journal World, and this is the first one that really bothers me. The point appears to be to trivialize numbers, statistics, and data analysis; or worse, advise us to mistrust them.

"After all, without Phil’s 175 shot attempts, the Tigers would be shooting .515 from the field. That’s what the figures say. They lie."

Wrong. The figures don't say that. It's pure speculation. The figures say what the actual shooting percentages are, not what they might be under some hypothetical scenario.

The actual point of the article is fine, that Phil Pressey brings a lot more to MU than is reflected in his individual statistics. But don’t misrepresent the data and then blame the numbers for that misrepresentation. We have enough problems with poor quantitative understanding and math anxiety in our society without the media encouraging distrust of data analysis. If you aren’t scared of numbers it’s easy to see what they say, and what they don’t say.

I get depressed whenever I visit my son’s Jr. High and talk to his math teachers, and realize how poorly trained many of them are. Articles like this one, and the message of the headline (don’t trust numbers), just make the situation worse.

bradh 10 years, 10 months ago

Good grief, get off the TK bashing band wagon peeps. It was a legitimate article. He points out that the numbers would say Pressy is the least valuable member of their team, when in fact he is a very important member, or possibly the most important member of their team. It seems a valid point to me.

I would have preferred to see something about how the game projects out in his mind, he hit the point total on the last game exactly, so he's not a bad prognosticator. The main question is, can we guard the 3 ball well enough to give our bigs a chance. Seemed like under Roy, we'd always have the taller team and they'd struggle against the smaller, quicker teams. I think offensively we beat MU across the board. Defensively, I'm worried about English and his 3s and the quickness of Pressy drawing fouls or the help defense and leaving someone open. It should be a good game, which is too bad, I'd sure prefer to have the Tiggers leave the Big 12 with some really bad losses.

AverageCitizen 10 years, 10 months ago

Thanks for interpreting this article for me because I wouldn't have understood what Keegan was trying to say. Not everyone understands math and I sure don't follow baseball so I was lost.

I say "know your audience". KU basketball has fans are so wide spread they aren't your typical overall sports fan. KU fan base covers all ages and sexes. Just because I love KU hoops doesn't mean it makes sense to have a an analogy through a comparison with soccer, which I know nothing about.

Steve Reigle 10 years, 10 months ago

Looks to me like he's saying the real key to stopping Mizzery is to stop Phil Pressey. Don't forget the other players but if you shut down PP then you cut down the effectiveness of the rest of the team.

Steve Reigle 10 years, 10 months ago

He being Keegan. Wasn't real clear on that.

flyingfinn 10 years, 10 months ago

I really try to be objective when reading Keegan article's but this one has to be the worst. It has no point and is truly a waste of one's time.

irvan moore 10 years, 10 months ago

i don't care, i just wanna see the Hawks win

Lance Hobson 10 years, 10 months ago

If any of you had read Moneyball you'd appreciate this articale a lot more. Quit complaining, it just makes you look like dolts.

JHen3ry 10 years, 10 months ago

The whole Moneyball premise of this article is a straw man. Bill James said back in the '80s that defensive stats, especially assists, are often misleading or meaningless. I've been following sabremetrics that long, and the idea that moneyballers don't know anything except gearhead stats is a canard. As for the rest of Keegan's argument, so what? Yes, shooting percentages depend on passing and team play. That's a short paragraph, not a column.

Pitthawk34 10 years, 10 months ago

Well there is 2 minutes of my life I will never get back after taking the time to read this article.

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