The following is the final installment of Quick Hitters for the 2013-14 season. You can check out the (relatively small) collection here.
1. Did free throws really cost Kentucky a championship?
The national championship game featured a very good free throw shooting team and a not so good free throw shooting team. UConn went a perfect 10-10 in the game, while Kentucky went just 13-24. Kentucky did lose the game by six, but it’s more complicated than that. Even at just 54% (Kentucky’s season average was just above 68%), Kentucky would be creating 1.08 points per shooting foul. The Wildcats only scored .90 points per possession for the game. Despite the free throw struggles, Kentucky actually increased their efficiency when getting to the line.
I wanted to take a look at how big of an advantage it is to be a superior free throw shooting team. This is a more complicated issue than it might seem, but take a look at the data from the 2013-14 season below before I get into the caveats:
The better free throw shooting team won 55% of games during 2013-14. Of course we do have problems with causation and correlation here. It’s very possible that good free throw shooting teams won 55% of games because of a confounding variable (i.e. – three-point shooting). Still, in “close games” (games decided by one to four points) the win percentage of good free throw shooting teams actually decreased.
The next table was an attempt to isolate situations similar to Kentucky-UConn. It only includes games where a team’s season FT% was more than 5% better then their opponent’s season average. However, we see that the close game results are essentially the same as the first table. This analysis is very limited, but there’s simply no evidence for better free throw shooting teams winning more close games here.
I already looked at close games earlier this season in relation to experience and home-court advantage. There’s no doubt that close games are largely dictated by randomness (or “luck”). Still, there is a difference between end of game free throw shooting and season averages. The former is largely dependent on your best free throw shooters, the latter is largely dependent on your best foul creators. A more rigorous analysis that controls for other variables is necessary for any complete conclusions.
2. Team efficiency by month
Back when I looked at in-season improvement in February, I wrote about Virginia on the rise. With the season now over, I went back and calculated month by month adjusted efficiency differentials for every team. Of the teams to finish in the KenPom top 10, Virginia’s month of December really stands out:
Virginia was basically an average D1 team in the month of December (ranked 142nd). Amazingly, the Hoos bounced back to post the number one efficiency differential of any team in the country in January. No other elite team had anywhere close to as poor of a month as Virginia.
Louisville and Arizona were consistently elite teams all season long according to efficiency numbers. Interestingly, both teams were questioned by the media after losing Chane Behanan and Brandon Ashley respectively. The general perception of a drop in production never really matched up with reality in Louisville’s case. Arizona missed Ashley’s offense, but his importance was probably a bit exaggerated.
Oklahoma was the only NCAA tournament team to improve their efficiency differential every month of the season. The Sooners rise to being around a top 30 team was very gradual (and as a result pretty much unnoticed). On the other hand, UMass was the only NCAA tournament team to decline every month of the season. I had them as the 23rd ranked team in November, but just 114th in March games. Florida State, an NCAA bubble team, was another team that experienced a similar decline to UMass.
3. Russ Smith
Russ Smith’s career is now over with one national championship and two kPOYs. While Smith did receive a decent amount of attention for his change in offensive style this season, I still think his defense remains underappreciated. Smith had some of the quickest hands in college basketball and thrived in Louisville’s press. I developed a hobby this season of creating Russ(diculous) GIFs, so here are my four favorite steals from throughout the season: