Four Factors review of Big Ten’s first month
I have gotten some requests on previous posts to explain some of the advanced statistics measures I have been using in my game recaps. I apologize for throwing out some of these advanced statistics without the proper explanation. I am a bit of a basketball nut and I follow this stuff pretty religiously.
So now that we are a month into conference season and there are a decent amount of games to study from, we have a decent enough sample size to take a look at how Northwestern is playing. We will use this as a tool to introduce some of these statistics.
So why the Four Factors?
The four statistics that David Berri, the pioneer of basketball sabremetrics, points out are pretty intuitive. By making these statistics pace neutral, you can better compare between teams. For instance, the Big Ten plays at a very slow pace. The top scoring team in the conference is Indiana, scoring 84.0 points per game. The Hoosiers are actually tops in the nation in points per game. But if you look at the number by efficiency — points scored per 100 possessions — Indiana is not first in the conference. The Hoosiers 120.3 points per 100 possessions is behind the Wolverines’ 122.4 points per 100 possessions.
Saturday’s game is going to be a lot of fun, in other words.
This should give you an idea of why points per 100 possessions, also called Offensive Rating, is a much better method of comparing how effective an offense is. Michigan is not penalized for playing at a slower pace than Indiana. This stands in for score in the Four Factors.
Two of the other statistics used in the Four Factors also account for pace by taking a look at the rate an event occurs per possession. Turnover Rate (TO%) counts the percentage of possessions a team turns the ball over. Similarly Offensive Rebound Rate (O.Reb.%) counts the percentage of offensive rebounds a team could grab as compared to the total rebounds available. The final rate-based statistic is Free Throw Rate (FTR), which takes a look at the ratio of free throws attempted over field goals attempted.
Undoubtedly, coaches look to turnovers, offensive rebounds and free throws in the box score to get a sense of how aggressive and efficient a team is playing. These numbers take into account the number of possessions. If Northwestern is playing a slower game, then eight turnovers might really feel like 15 in a much faster game. These numbers try to get at this impact.
The final statistic to mention is what is called Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%). This takes a look at field goal percentage — the point of the game is to make shots. However, it recognizes that a 3-point field goal is worth 50 percent more than a 2-point field goal. So what this statistic does is it multiplies the number of 3-point field goals made by 0.5, adds that with the total number of field goals made and then divides it by the total number of field goal attempts. A team that makes a lot of 3-pointers then has a higher effective field goal percentage because, assumedly, they are scoring more points on fewer field goal attempts.
That is the logic. So let’s take a look at how Northwestern is doing this year for the entire season and in conference play:
These numbers reveal a few things about the way Northwestern has played in getting to 3-6 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are not scoring nearly as efficiently as they were out of conference in Big Ten. That is to be expected. However, Northwestern’s other offensive numbers have been decent. The team’s turnovers are down and the free throws are up for this team. The Wildcats are not scoring points as much, but if they get hot they still seemingly could beat anyone.
So what about defensive numbers? This is where NU is beginning to show its struggles:
These defensive numbers really show where Northwestern is struggling. While the Wildcats get to the line at a high rate, Big Ten opponents (and opponents in general) get to a high rate too. Not only that, opponents are grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring much more efficiently in the Big Ten than they were overall. Obviously, Northwestern has been losing games so this is something to expect.
So what seems to be the Wildcats’ formula? Northwestern has to shoot better and score more. That seems simple enough. But defensively, the Wildcats have to be better at getting stops and getting to the boards. A 40.3 percent offensive rebound is far too high and gives opponents a second chance to score — something they are taking advantage of despite a relatively low effective field goal percentage.
The big key for Northwestern’s defense is forcing turnovers. We have seen the Wildcats win when they force turnovers because the offense can score when given the chance — especially when the defense cannot get set.
Hopefully this post was illuminating in some way and gave a look at how Northwestern is winning and losing games this season.