2014 In Season Improvement

Posted by on February 11, 2014

Earlier in the season, Dan Hanner wrote about in season improvement. Hanner took a look at coaches who tend to get more out of their teams as the season progresses. With most teams about halfway through conference play, we can begin to take a look at teams on the rise (and decline) this season.
I decided to take a look at team performance in November/December compared to January/February. Most teams have played around 11 games in both periods of times. I’m using what I call “Team Performance” as the measure here, which I’ve used quite a bit this year. Basically, it’s taking offensive and defensive points per possession and adjusting them for both competition and home-court advantage. The final number should be read as “points per 100 possessions above an average team”. The numbers are broken up by offense and defense. Remember, negative numbers are better when it comes to defense.
First, let’s take a look at the “hottest” (most improved) teams over the last month and a half:
Hot Teams
1. Vermont
I had to double check to make sure Roy Hibbert hasn’t joined Vermont in the last month. The Catamounts have gone from 4.5 points per 100 possessions below average in November/December to 16.1 points above average solely on the defensive end. There’s no sign of Hibbert on Vermont’s roster, unless he secretly changed his name to “Ethan O’Day”. The 6’9″ sophomore missed eight games in November with a hand injury he suffered in the season-opener.
O’Day has been an extremely valuable rim protector for UVM since his return. His block percentage of 11.2% would rank him 20th in the entire country if he had the minutes to qualify. In late November, Vermont bottomed out at 196 in the Pomeroy Rankings. With O’Day leading the defensive charge, UVM is all the way up to 72. Sandro Carissimo, Brian Voelkel, and Clancy Rugg are all very good offensive pieces (just ask Duke), but with O’Day leading the recent surge Vermont is now the clear favorite in the America East.
2. Virginia
Since the 35-point loss at Tennessee on December 30th, Virginia is 11-1 in ACC play with only a four point loss at Cameron Indoor. Nine out of the 11 wins for Virginia have been by double digits. You can make a case, at least statistically, that Tony Bennett’s squad has been the best team in the entire country in 2014. The UVA offense that started the season right around NCAA average has improved to 10 points per 100 possessions above average in January/February. The defense is going to be there for UVA, but if Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris, and company can continue the recent offensive tear, the Hoos are a Final Four contender no one’s talking about.
3. Murray State
The Racers have their own “Ethan O’Day” guiding the mid-season improvement in T.J. Sapp. The Clemson transfer was forced to sit out the first nine games due to leaving Clemson mid-season last year. In January/February, Murray State’s over 10 points per 100 possessions better on offense than they were to start the season. Sapp didn’t show much in limited minutes at Clemson, but he and the Racers have jumped out to a 9-2 record in the OVC in 2014. The 6’3″ junior has an offensive rating of 106 while shooting on 28% of Murray State possessions.
Next, let’s take a look at the “coldest” teams over the last month and a half:
Cold Teams
1. Dartmouth
Dartmouth went 5-4 against D1 competition in November/December, with five blow out wins against very (very) weak opponents. They also managed to stay close in their one game against a top 100 team at Illinois. It looked like Dartmouth might be able to make some noise in the Ivy.
The jury’s still out on the Big Green a bit. They have played just four conference games against teams not named “Harvard”, but they have also been hit by the injury bug. Most notably, junior rebounding machine Gabas Maldunas has missed the last five games. He will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
2. Iowa State
Twitter seemed to see Iowa State’s dud coming yesterday afternoon. The Cyclones are low on depth as is and were coming off an exhausting week. However, Iowa State has been struggling recently even before yesterday’s result.
ISU has actually given up more points they have scored in Big 12 play. Hoiberg’s squad is fun to watch with their fast and high scoring attack, but they have taken a step back in the last month and a half when Melvin Ejim isn’t scoring 48 points.
3. Arkansas
I think Arkansas’ decline was the easiest to see coming. The Razorbacks didn’t play a single road game in November/December. In theory, the stats in the tables above account for this home-court advantage. However, I account for average home-court. Bud Walton Arena has consistently been one of the hardest places to play at in the country. Road games in SEC play have unsurprisingly brought Arkansas back to the rest of the pack on both offense and defense.

2 Responses to “2014 In Season Improvement”

  1. bigeastandbeyond

    Nothing against Ethan O’Day, but isn’t a lot of Vermont’s improvement being able to play teams at their level rather than their tough non-conference slate? Or does this take into account the level of competition?

  2. Jordan Sperber

    Right, this does take into account the level competition (and home-court advantage) as noted in the post. Also I should note, average-ish teams like Bryant, Wagner, Illinois St, and San Francisco all had big offensive outings against Vermont without O’Day.


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