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Processing the Numbers, Basketball Edition | Kennesaw State Fighting Owls

It's FINALLY time to #BuckleUp!

Yes, this is from when Coach Johnson was with the Nets. We're a tad short on action shots, yall.
Yes, this is from when Coach Johnson was with the Nets. We're a tad short on action shots, yall.
Elsa/Getty Images

RPI information courtesy of CBS Sports.
BPI information courtesy of ESPN.
All other statistics are courtesy of, Ken Pomeroy’s outstanding basketball analytics site.

Welcome Back!

It’s basketball season again folks, and that means it’s time for a new year of Processing the Numbers, Basketball Edition! Unlike the football version of this article, there’s not too much new to talk about this season — these previews will continue to be based primarily on the metrics available at, with additional insight granted via ESPN’s BPI metric and CBS Sports’ version of the RPI formula. Per usual, a link to a pretty detailed primer on all of these statistics is located beneath The Goods, and there’s always the glossary for briefer explanations. Starting with the previews next week, we’ll also take a look back at the previous game through the lens of Dean Oliver’s Four Factors of Basketball, which are also covered in the primer.

Those of you who were here last season may recall that we also do a version of Advanced Stats Rundown for basketball. Unlike last year, week-to-week that piece will primarily consist of short game previews within the SEC, as well as a national game of the week from one of the other conferences and the SEC Rundown, wherein we see how the conference’s teams stack up in the advanced metrics. The additional content covered last year — National Rundown and the ever-popular krnxprs’ Scatterplot Hieroglyph of Infinite Torment — will not be featured every week, as the conference rankings just don’t move a whole lot once conference play begins. Look for this series to get spun up around the start of conference play in early January![1]

1 | The fact football season will sadly end around that same timeframe is purely coincidental and barely worth mentioning.

Wait, aren’t you supposed to be previewing something, nerd?

Right! Next up, the Alabama Crimson Tide officially kick off the 2015-2016 basketball campaign by welcoming the Atlantic Sun’s Kennesaw State Fighting Owls to Coleman Coliseum. The game is on Friday, November 13th, at 7:30 PM CST / 8:30 PM EST. The game is only available via your local Crimson Tide Sports Network radio affiliate, or on SEC Network+ via WatchESPN.

The Goods

The Matchup
PYTH 0.7152 (77) PYTH 0.1445 (336) ALABAMA
OE+ 102.5 (107) DE+ 108.2 (343) ALABAMA
DE+ 94.6 (50) OE+ 92.7 (325) ALABAMA
T+ 67.7 (240) T+ 68.7 (156) KENNESAW STATE

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.

Ratings information as of November 12th, 2015.

Wondering what all these terms are?

  • RPI: The Ratings Percentage Index, a measure of team strength based on winning percentage, the winning percentage of a team’s opponents, and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents. For a more detailed excoriation discussion of RPI, check out this section of the PTN Basketball Primer.
  • BPI: The Basketball Power Index is an opponent-adjusted statistic created by ESPN that accounts for scoring margin, pace, game location, and absence of critical players. It can be used both predictively and as a measure of a team’s strength to that point in the season.
  • PYTH: The Pythagorean Rating, a measure of a team’s expected winning percentage against an average D-I team, which is based on the concept of Pythagorean Expectation. For a more detailed discussion of PYTH ratings, check out this section of the PTN Basketball Primer.
  • Luck: A measure of how a team’s actual performance has outstripped that of its expected performance based on PYTH rating.
  • OE+: Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, a measure of a team’s offensive performance on a possession-by-possession basis, adjusted to provide the expected performance against an average D-I team. Expressed in points scored per 100 possessions.
  • DE+: Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, a measure of a team’s defensive performance on a possession-by-possession basis, adjusted to provide the expected performance against an average D-I team. Expressed in points allowed per 100 possessions.
  • T+: Adjusted Tempo, a measure of a team’s expected pace against a team that wants to play at an average D-I pace. Expressed as possessions per game.
  • Sched. PYTH: The Schedule PYTH Rating, a PYTH rating based on the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies of a team’s opponents, used as a strength-of-schedule rating.
  • NCS PYTH: The Non-Conference Schedule PYTH Rating, simply the schedule PYTH calculated for non-conference opponents only.
  • Opp. OE+: Opponents’ Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, the average adjusted offensive efficiency of a team’s opponents.
  • Opp. DE+: Opponents’ Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the average adjusted defensive efficiency of a team’s opponents

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN Basketball primer!

The Disclaimer

For the first several weeks of the season, these metrics are based partially on preseason projection factors, namely recent program performance, the effects of roster attrition, the impact of Top 100 recruits, and sweet, sweet voodoo.[2]

As the season progresses, data from games played will be factored in, with a progressively lighter emphasis on the preseason ratings. Starting around the middle of January (usually the start of conference play), preseason ratings will be removed and the metrics will be based purely on this season’s games.

2 | This last one's not true.

But first, a little education.

Advanced stats are a wonderful, tremendous development in the world of sports analysis, as they permit a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the game[3] than is available from more traditional methods of study. They’re also damn frustrating at times, and one of those times is at the beginning of a season. There’s really two ways to go about this — you can use past results to project future performance (“predictive”), or you can analyze past results to characterize team quality (“retrodictive”). The problem is you need past results, and we don’t have any of those yet.

3 | And, honestly, a more accessible one to folks whose playing days ended early (provided they ever began).

In order to get around that, the Bill Connellys and Brian Fremeaus and Ken Pomeroys of the world[4] rely on past seasons’ performances to project a team’s capabilities until they get enough data points into the model to make it reasonably accurate. In the case of Crimson Tide basketball, that’s not a great look, as the last six years were spent watching the slow, derptastic exploits of Grantsketball.

4 | Also known as “the coattails upon which I gleefully ride.”

Early returns suggest “slow” is a thing of the past in Coleman, as new coach Avery Johnson has had the Tide practicing with a 20 second shot clock, with the aim of playing at one of the country’s fastest paces. That’s a double edged sword, of course — as Mr. Perry points out in the linked piece, expect more blowouts in year one of the Buckle Up Era. But at least those blowouts should be entertaining, which was not a frequent description of the Tide’s play under Coach Grant.

I bring all of this up because KenPom’s ratings are heavily, heavily influenced by last year’s results at this point, and as such may be an even less accurate description of what this team will be than they normally are at this stage of the season. To that end, until we get deep enough in the season to get a good read on the identity of this team, I will try to put these metrics in a bit more accurate context. You’ll also note we’re working with a smaller set of numbers to start, as BPI and RPI are still stuck in last season, and the KenPom scheduling metrics have no data to work with yet.

So, what do we know?

The Tide’s opponent is also breaking in a new coach, as former head man Jimmy Lallathin was fired at the end of last year’s disappointing 10-22 campaign. In his place is former Boston College head coach Al Skinner,[5] who led the Eagles to seven NCAA tournaments during the aughts, and was the National Coach of the Year in 2001. After being let go under controversial circumstances in 2010, Skinner resurfaced as an assistant at Bradley before taking over this season at Kennesaw State. Skinner has 22 years of head coaching experience at the Division 1 college level, so don’t get the idea this is some brand new guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing — Skinner has serious coaching chops.

5 | Previously of Rhode Island, and journeyman in the NBA.

Fortunately, we can get an idea of what to expect thanks to KenPom’s database of ratings information, which stretches back to the 2002-2003 season. That gives us insight into the last nine years of Skinner’s tenure in Chestnut Hill, where he fielded teams ranked as high as 23rd overall in PYTH rating. His teams were characterized by slow, methodical play, as evidenced by an average finish of 214th in T+. Offensive efficiency was well above the norm, with an average finish of 38th in OE+ and a high finish of 4th overall in the 2003-2004 season. Early in the decade his teams were hellacious defensively, but toward the end of his tenure they started to trickle down toward the national average, which isn’t a great place to be when playing in the Big East and the ACC. That may have had something to do with why he was let go.

Obviously this Kennesaw State team will not have the same level of talent those as Eagles squads, but presumably they will play a similar brand of basketball. The slow pace was also evident on the Bradley teams for which Skinner was an assistant coach, so there’s no indication his approach to the game has changed. He’ll have the services of the Owls’ leading scorers from a year ago in seniors Yonel Brown and Nigel Pruitt, who combined for 27.4 points per game last season. The only other Owl to average double digits last season was former Memphis player Damien Wilson, but sadly he was an academic casualty in the offseason and is no longer with the team.

The pace of play differential will provide an interesting contrast in styles, but generally that situation favors the slower team, as the flow of the game is more dependent on their play. One thing to look out for is the tremendous size advantage enjoyed by the Tide, who features three players 6’9” or taller in Michael Kessens, Jimmie Taylor, and incoming freshman Donta Hall. Kennesaw’s tallest players are the 6’8” Bernard Morena and Jordan Jones, who combined for 25 minutes a game a season ago. One of those players would seem to benefit from the departure of the 6’7” Wilson, but regardless of which player it is, they will be outgunned.

Even if this was a Grant team, the overwhelming advantage for the Tide in the table above suggests an easy victory. The losses of Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper to graduation and Ricky Tarrant to yet another transfer will be felt early and often, but the talent advantage on this team is overwhelming. The magic box puts it at a 96.4% win probability for the Tide, and I see no reason to argue with that.

THE PICK: Alabama Crimson Tide