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

Advertisement 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.

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.


ParisHawk 12 years, 2 months ago

It would be interesting, but a lot of work, to do this for groups and not just individuals. For example, which 5-player lineup has done the best during conference play?

Maybe Sherron is below average because he is playing a lot of minutes and has to hold the fort while Marcus and / or Cole are sitting?

Another question : what is Sherron's plus/minus in crunch time?

These stats certainly seem to confirm Coach Self's view on Taylor : of our rotation players, he is the one who most needs to improve right now, especially since Xavier and Markieff are already trending up.

Matt Friedeman 12 years, 2 months ago

Fascinating stuff, really. If it is important to know, however, someone ought to have a computer at every game logging the data in and having it spit out best combinations and those in certain situations (something that can't be that hard to do with the right program). That would take the serious follower to the next level of fanaticism and would add sophistication to coaching decisions. I wonder if somewhere it is not already being done...

AsherFusco 12 years, 2 months ago


I haven't seen +/- by player combination or clutch-specific stats for college basketball. However, keeps track of +/- rating for 5-man units and player-by-player clutch stats for the NBA. It's possible, but man would that be a lot of work to keep track of. I wouldn't be surprised if some teams use this sort of analysis in scouting their own players and substitution patterns. Advanced statistics — or APBRmetrics — have made substantial in-roads in the way front office decisions are made at the pro level, so its only natural college coaching staffs might be using some of this newly-available knowledge in similar ways.

docileboy 12 years, 2 months ago

Very interesting. No brag just fact, the three I thought would be at the top, were in the top four.

klineisanazi 12 years, 2 months ago

Jeez, njjayhawk, all those qualifiers were included in the article. No statistic is the end-all be-all. It is just one measurement. Ease up a bit. And I don't think it is "insignificant". Seems to confirm what most everyone has already observed. When Marcus is on the bench, the KU offense gets stale fast. Right now he and Cole are the MVPs of this team.

stravinsky 12 years, 2 months ago

njjay -- duh. Numbers only show half the story, but still, it's an important half. But as the game count increases, the +/- numbers are going to become more accurate in depicting a player's effect on team play.

This does shut me up a little bit. Brady frustrates the hell out of me to watch (whether it's free throw woes, getting blown by on a screen, getting trapped by a single man, dribbling the ball shoulder high and SOMEHOW still driving to the basket, etc) but his +/- numbers do show that the team really is better with him in the lineup.

Glad you compiled this, Jesse. I had been looking a week ago for somewhere that did aggregate +/- stats and they seemed to be nowhere to be found. Until now!

milehighhawk 12 years, 2 months ago

Very interesting stats for some of the guys for sure.

I think another reason Sherron's numbers are a bit lower is that he plays SO MANY minutes.

Bill Skeet 12 years, 2 months ago

This analysis would also be interesting for the RPI top 40 teams that KU has played. I'm not sure if things would be much different for most players, but I suspect Collins' numbers might rise a bit in those kinds of games.

Sparko 12 years, 2 months ago

The Tyshawn call was spot-on. HCBS knows the game. . .

kellyrojo78 12 years, 2 months ago

This kid dragonslyr knows what hes talking about. Way too many minutes for Sharron. He should be getting pulled when we are up by 20 with 10 minutes left because we have so many guys who can fill in well. SC needs to rest up. His fatigue is even leading to mental lapses. He is a great player. I thought Reed would be number 1. If you watch the games closely, when he is in KU tends to go on mini runs...Also, he almost never makes mistakes. Then again, he is not really an "impact player" so his role on the court is not as heavy as our biggest players. Either way, + - is an interesting and cool stat to look at. I wish it was posted for every game on KUsports

Drew Alan 12 years, 2 months ago

plus minus scores have been prevalent in Hockey for YEARS as a prime way to determine a players overall value in general defensive and offensive value. In hockey it is a LOT easier to track, which explains why its taking so long to trickle down to a higher scoring sport like basketball... Guys like Morningstar and Reed may not stuff the stat sheet, but they don't take bad shots, they run the offense to get the ball into someone with a good chance to score's hands, and they play sound, fundamental defense. Its not to say they aren't unshakeable, Brady was torched by Sloan against A&M, and K-State apparently went on at least one significant run with Reed in that game, but in general, those guys get the job done while they are in there.

I am in the club that thinks part of Sherron's poor +/- rating are at least in some part due to him playing a vast majority of minutes. And I think that is at least part of his value to the team, is that when our opponent goes on a run, Sherron is in there, battling to keep us afloat and try and stop that run. All that being said, Sherron has the lowest FG% of the 8 regular rotation players and is below average in +/-, and Brady has the next lowest FG% of the 8 regular rotation players, and is above average in +/-. Just food for thought.

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