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The Other Three People Are Just Out There

On April 9th of last year, Joe Lunardi put together his way-too-early bracket for 2008, which you might remember included this pod...










Turns out he was just a hair off regarding the Wolfpack. (Good calls on MSU and Arizona, though.)

I'm going to take one last in-depth look at what did happen. I won't be hurt if you decide to skip this. All the numbers below are in-conference only (conference rank in parenthesis).

 Off_Eff Def_Eff Margin ExpW-L
2007 101.1 (11) 111.4 (11) -10.3 4-12
2008 100.9 (10) 114.1 (12) -13.2 3-13

From GoPack:

Why did it happen? Statistics tell a part of the story. After averaging 71 points per game a season ago, the Wolfpack was down an average of four points per contest this season. Lowe’s first team in 2007 also hit 49 percent of its shots, an excellent rate by any measure. This season, the Pack could muster only 45 percent shooting from the floor.

"It tells you we weren’t as efficient on the offensive end of the floor," Lowe said. "We didn’t shoot the ball as well as we’re capable. The one thing I wasn’t concerned about was our ability to score and make shots because I thought we had guys that could do that. The numbers don’t lie. Now it’s a matter of us getting back in the gym and working on our individual skills and coming back ready to play next year."

He said efficient! *swoons*

The offense:

 eFG% TO% OR% FTR 2FG% 3FG% ShotDiff Pts/ePoss
2007 53.1 (1) 22.5 (11) 26.2 (12) 25.6 (8) 51.9 (5) 37.0 (2) -9.8 (12) 1.30 (7)
2008 52.2 (4) 23.8 (12) 29.7 (12) 28.7 (3) 48.4 (8) 39.7 (1) -8.0 (12) 1.32 (6)

[ShotDiff = shot attempt differential. The difference, per game, in shot attempts by the Pack and the Pack's opponents, with free throws factored in. The negative number means opponents are getting more attempts at the hoop.

Pts/ePoss = Points per turnover-less possession. The term "effective possessions" (ePoss) is credited to John Gasaway.]

If we were going to contend in 2008, we needed to significantly improve in our areas of weakness. We did not. While we marginally improved our offensive rebounding, thanks to JJ Hickson and, to a lesser extent, Gavin Grant, problems at the point led us to turn the ball over more frequently than we did a year ago.

Lowe's assessment of our shooting capabilities is correct, but just as it wasn't something he should have been concerned about coming into the season, it's not something he should worry about going forward, either. Despite what the regular old field goal percentage may tell him, we were fine in that regard, and we'll be fine next year, too.

And there has to be at least some bounce-back for McCauley and Costner--surely they won't be this bad in 2009--and that should help push our 2FG% back up. We'll miss Grant's newfound three-point accuracy (he shot 44.2% from outside), and you can bet that Courtney Fells, who somehow managed to shoot 45.2% despite consistently poor shot selection, won't be that effective again. To pick up the slack along the perimeter, we'll need Costner and Horner (assuming he's back) to reclaim what they've lost, and we'll need Javier Gonzalez to build on the confidence he displayed toward the end of the season. I'm optimistic enough to think those things will happen.

As the last two seasons have shown, however, being among the league's best shooting teams doesn't do much good when opportunities are slim. We've operated with a margin of error that makes extended success impossible, losing the shot attempt tug-of-war night in, night out. Until we start protecting the basketball, the overall picture isn't going to change. I'd check back in 2010 or so.

Defense:

 eFG% TO% OR% FTR 2FG% 3FG%
2007 51.2 (6) 17.1 (12) 39.3 (12) 30.1 (2) 49.4 (6) 37.5 (11)
2008 52.5 (11) 16.5 (11) 36.4 (10) 32.1 (2) 48.7 (6) 42.2 (12)

As messy as the situation at the offensive end is, our performance here, and our near-term prospects, are even more depressing. ACC offenses were collectively worse in 2008, scoring 104.4 pts/100 poss versus the 105.3 they averaged in 2007. Which means we declined from about 6% worse (111.4/105.3) than the average ACC defense to about 9% worse (114.1/104.4). In terms of the four factors:

 eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2007 -0.4% -15.3% -13.6% +18.2%
2008 -4.6% -18.1% -6.7% +13.0%

(So, for example, our eFG% defense was 4.6% worse than average, while our defensive free throw rate was 13% better than average.)

Essentially, our hopes for defensive improvement lie with the rather nebulous proposition that the guys will try harder. I'd like to be able to offer some words of encouragement here, to be able to point to something positive. But, well... (1) we're losing our best defensive rebounder/lone shot-blocking threat, (2) McCauley/Costner make for horrific defense when they're on the court together, and (3) even if Sidney Lowe changed his philosophy, I think our passive style that keeps opponents off the line but doesn't create turnovers is so ingrained that there's no going back with this group; this is the defensive identity we've forged, and unfortunately, it sucks.