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Basketball Year In Review and a Look at Next Year

April 12, 2011

Note: if any of the terms in this post confuse you, or if you are unsure of why I cite points per possession rather than points per game, or anything of that nature, leave a comment.

This year the UND basketball team did the near unthinkable when it won the Great West Conference Tournament and earned an autobid to the CIT. They won their three GWC tournament games by a total of 4 points, including a 1 point win in double overtime in the final against South Dakota.

Can they do it again next year? I actually think so. Although they were the third best team in the conference in the Pomeroy Ratings, the Sioux lose only one Senior off last year’s team, and he only played a little over a fourth of the team’s minutes. By contrast, Utah Valley, the conference’s best team last year, loses three and South Dakota loses two.

One thing the team did well last year was rebound. Despite being just 224th nationally in effective height (for more on that, read this) the Sioux had the 35th best defensive rebounding rate in the entire country, limiting opponents to rebounding only 28.5% of their misses. (for more on why rebounding percentage is far superior than simply counting how many rebounds a team grabs, read this). Oddly enough, the Sioux don’t offensive rebound very well, at just 28.4% overall (291st) and 29.9% in conference games. This however can be explained probably not by a lack of rebounding skill, but by a willingness to abandon hope of grabbing offensive rebounds and getting back on defense, as the Sioux were 5th in tempo among the 7 Great West teams*

*Of course, you can draw the inverse conclusion as well: that the Sioux were so good defensively because every other team was concerned with getting back on defense. However, this theory is fairly easily debunked by the fact that the Sioux didn’t only defensively rebound well in conference, but out of conference play as well, and that three of the fastest playing teams in the country were in the Great West, so clearly they didn’t try to go back on defense to limit possessions.

The Sioux were actually shockingly good at defense last year. When I looked at their boxscores, I assumed their low point totals were just a result of not many possessions, but it turns out they played faster than I originally thought (67.6 possessions per game per team) and allowed fewer points per possession than I thought. Their .96 points per possession allowed in conference play was good for 2nd in the conference and while it is not great, it gives the team a chance to win every game. That mark puts them roughly in the 60s in terms of national rank, but while their output might be a bit suspect, the input is very good. By input I mean their 2 point defense. 2 point offense and defense is the most telling stat when looking at how good a defense is because it takes some of the luck of a good/bad three point shooting night out of the equation, as well as some of the turnover luck. The Sioux’s 2 point defense allowed was 42.8%, which was 1st in the conference and would have been top 5 in the country if they had replicated it all year. Obviously they’re playing worse teams in conference than out of it, but it is encouraging for next year, especially since players tend to improve defensively from their Freshman to Senior years.

Offensively, the big question will be the development of Troy Huff. His 13.3 ppg and 4.6 rpg numbers were good, but he needs to improve his efficiency bigtime if he wants to develop into an All-Conference type player. He took by far the most shots on the team – nearly a third of them when he was on the floor – but shot only a 49.1% eFG. He also shot only 62.4% from the free throw line, which, when you draw as many fouls as he does, is leaving quite a few points on the table. Huff also didn’t really contribute otherwise: his 13.2% defensive rebounding rate is good for a guard, but his turnover rate was 17% next to only a 10% assist rate, and he was one of their weaker players defensively. Still, he has a lot of talent and it is clear he will be their go to guy in the next three years, so his development is key to the program’s development.

UND’s main bugaboo this year was turnovers. They were 5th out of 7 in turnover percentage, which is going to happen with a Freshman point guard. Still, Jamal Webb had a 29.7% assist rate, and even though he had a 30% turnover rate, if he can cut that down to even 20% the Sioux will be much better offensively. Coaches always preach against turnovers, but you can win while turning the ball over if you’re good at other things. Sadly, one of those things usually has to be offensive rebounding, something UND is not committed to. So they either need to get ultra efficient in scoring when they don’t turn it over, or they need to take care of the ball better.

Hopefully UND leans on Patrick Mitchell next year. The 6’8″ Senior to be had the best defensive rebounding rate on the team last year (19.6%), didn’t turn it over much despite using his fair share of possessions, and shot 37% from three. If Huff and Webb prove to be legitimate scoring/penetrating threats, it will open up things even more for Mitchell and he can hopefully take advantage.

I don’t know how they will do next year, but I think at this point in time I would anoint the Sioux as favorites to win the Great West next year. Their best player will be a Senior, and their next three best players will be Sophomores who now have a year of division 1 basketball under their belts. Assuming their defense stays where it is, and the offense improves even a little bit, the Sioux should have their second postseason berth in a row.

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