In my November surprises I noted how strange North Dakota State’s season has started. On the immediate surface, not much has changed. North Dakota State entered the season as the Summit League favorite and probably still hold that title in mid-January despite an early loss to IPFW. Saul Phillips’ team has nearly everyone back from a team that led the Summit League last year in the KenPom rankings. However, the changes on each side of the ball at NDSU have been drastic.
The 2012-13 edition of NDSU was a good defense (59th in AdjD) and very mediocre offense (145 in AdjO). On defense, the Bison played a conservative but effective style. Opponent’s shot an eFG% of just 44% and were kept off the offensive glass. On offense, they shot the ball well and didn’t turn it over but struggled getting offensive rebounds and to the foul line.
This year a healthy Taylor Braun has certainly helped NDSU’s offense. The Bison have cracked the top 20 in AdjO via efficient shooting inside the arc and Braun’s ability to get to the foul line. However, the defense is now a laughable 268th in the country. Opponent eFG% has skyrocketed to 53%. The true answer for what has been the problem on defense for NDSU is “everything”.
North Dakota State’s movement on both sides of the ball in the efficiency rankings seemed ridiculous to me. I wanted to see just how abnormal it really is relative to other teams this season. The first thing I did was get a list of teams with “everyone” (or close to it) back from the 2012-13 season. What I came up with may not be the perfect measure, but it definitely serves its purpose.
I took every player who has recorded minutes this year (for every team) and added their 2012-13 total minutes played together. I then divided that number by the number of games played last year and then by five. This gave me essentially a minutes per game returning, with 40 being the maximum. Of course this doesn’t account for freshman or transfers in their first years, but the idea is that if these players are getting minutes on an experienced team they *should* only help.
I identified exactly 20 teams with at least 35 returning minutes per lineup spot per game (rMPG). The list is below:
These are teams with “everyone” back from last year. Notice North Dakota State is 12th on the list. I think intuitively we would expect these teams (in general) to improve upon their 2012-13 season. We already know what’s happened to NDSU, but take a look at this graph with all 20 teams:
(Note: AdjO and AdjD ranks are thru Saturday’s games and could differ slightly from current ranks)
I included logos for teams outside the first two diamonds. In other words, the teams where the absolute value of changes in AdjO and AdjD are greater than 100. NDSU has the biggest change from last season on both offense and defense, with Hartford not far behind. It does seem like we might be on to something here. Indiana State, Radford, Boston College, and Wofford all also have declined on defense while maintaining or improving on offense.
On average, the 20 teams have actually declined on defense. Remember, these are teams with (basically) everyone back. 13 of the 20 teams have increased their AdjO rank, but only 8 have increased their AdjD rank. Extremely significant offensive decline is very rare, except for Paul Hewitt’s George Mason squad. Hewitt is playing two freshman (Jalen Jenkins and Marquise Moore) a fair amount of minutes with poor offensive ratings.
North Dakota State changes are strange, but don’t appear to be unprecedented. It seems extra experience doesn’t necessarily mean improvement, especially on the defensive end. Experience tends to be a topic used when convenient to the narrative. In this case sample size definitely limits the conclusions we can make, but it’s an interesting counter-argument for “experience over talent” people.