FanPost

Kevin Keatts' Defensive Record as Head Coach

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Keatts may be an offensive superstar. He took over a Wilmington squad from Buzz Peterson that sat at the bottom of the NCAA for just about every offensive stat. By his second year he had given Wilmington their best offense in 14 years. His U.N.Sea team ended year 3 as the 18th best team in the country in Adjusted Points-Per-Possession. They improved yearly in almost every offensive stat category and were generally a team that took care of the ball, created extra possessions with offensive boards, and scored efficiently.

I know this because I have watched a few games, but mainly because the numbers say so. That’s good news for us. The bad news for us is that the numbers for his UNCW defenses are also saying something, though perhaps not as clearly.

Keatts took over a Seahawk squad coming off Peterson’s best defensive showing. They managed an Adjusted Points-Per-Possession Defensive Score(AdjD) of 100.3 in 2013-14 which was 179th in the nation. That perfectly middling rank is fitting considering they were kinda middling at everything that year. They didn’t do anything well and their only terrible stat was that they gave up a ton of offensive boards. So this is where Keatts started. With a garbage defense that had worked it’s way up to middle-of-the-road. Now let's see what he did with it:

ADJUSTED POINTS-PER-POSSESSION (KP’s AdjD)

Year

AdjD

rnk

2017

106.1

192

2016

100.4

111

2015

100.3

134

2014 (Pre- Keatts)

105.0

179

I know people around here seem to think too much is made of this stat. I can’t disagree more. No matter how your team is comprised or what style they play, limiting points-per-possession is the #1 goal of a defense. Every possession that ends in a turnover or a defensive board puts a 0 in the points column for that possession and that improves your AdjD score. Teams that force lots of bad shots deep in the shot clock will see the fruits of their efforts here as well. There is no perfect single stat, but this is pretty damn close.

As you can see, Keatts never really did much to rise above that middling performance and his final team was actually a little worse. The improvement over the first 2 seasons disappeared in the 3rd.

The Mean tempo for college basketball teams is somewhere around 68 possessions per-game. So the difference between Keatts’ best team and his worse is around 4 ppg. The difference between Keatts’s 2017 team and the 25th best defense was around 7.5 points in that hypothetical 68 possession game. There were 3 ACC teams that would have done over 10 points better using that same metric.

STEAL PERCENTAGE AND BLOCK PERCENTAGE

Year

Blk%

rnk

Stl%

rnk

2017

8.4%

204

9.1%

145

2016

10.7%

92

9.6%

85

2015

11.8%

70

10.8%

54

Again, 2017 looks a good bit worse than the 2 previous seasons. There isn’t a ton of variance in these stats between teams. For example: in 2017 there were 65 teams with a Steal% greater than 10%, but only 22 who did better than 11%. So basically Keatts’ squads have been pretty good to average at creating turnovers and blocking shots.

3-POINT DEFENSE

Year

3p%

Rnk

3p-rate*

% of points from 3p

rnk

2017

34%

111

28.9%

22.3%

346

2016

33.9%

133

29%

21.7%

349

2015

33.5%

131

30.7%

23.7%

326

* % of total shots taken from 3


Here’s something to get excited about (and possibly a good place to stop reading). This is the most consistent year-to-year feature of these 3 seasons. Teams take a below-average amount of 3’s and hit an average percentage. This is the clearest sign that Kev (I call him Kev) is paying attention to the numbers and that he has a plan that can work. The flip side of that…

2-POINT DEFENSE

Year

2p%

rnk

Rim Rate*

Rim FG%

2pj Rate

2pj FG%

2p dist

Rnk**

2017

54.2%

328

38.9%

68.9%

32.2%

34.8%

56.9%

10

2016

46.1%

69

33.1%

60.9%

38%

32.2%

49.2%

212

2015

46.9%

135

33.8%

61.6%

35.5%

32.4%

51%

172

* % of total shots taken at-the-rim
** These ranks are backwards. Low Number = Bad

Whoo buddy. Let’s just all make up our minds right here and now that that stuff in the 2017 line was a one-off that had something to do with sun spots or El Nino. Once again the first 2 seasons seemed to show a pattern of steady improvement, but 2 entries does not a pattern make. Keatts only lost 1 contributing senior after 2016. I have no idea what caused the collapse.

SOME OTHER IMPORTANT STATS

Year

FT Rate

rnk

Poss. Len (seconds)

rnk

Transition rate

Trans efg%

Def Reb

Rnk

2017

39.6%

265

18.2

331

23%

61.5%

71.5%

152

2016

55.2%

350

17.5

223

25.3%

49.9%

69.9%

191

2015

47.4%

330

16.9

17

28%

55.3%

67.6%

240

Free-Throw Rate: Consistently terrible. UNCW was the second worst team in Basketball at keeping dudes off the line in 2016 and always near the bottom of the NCAA. These guys gave up lots of free points and they did it every year.

Possession length: This one is usually not "good" or "bad". For example, Gonzaga had the best defense in basketball and allowed more time per-possession than UNCW. WVU allowed the least time per-possession and was the 5th best defense. However, the reason I say "usually" is that Keatts is a pressure defense guy. If that is the case, you would expect numbers similar to WVU who cut possessions short rather than methodical and constricting defenses like the Zags, Louisville, and UVA with whom his turnover% and time-per-possession stats more closely align. I don't know what that means other than we should not expect a Press Virginia-style D from Keatts (which is kind of obvious is you watch them play).

Transition Rate: This is the total amount of first shot attempts that come in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. The % went down in year 3 but the efficiency went way up. These teams allowed more than a quarter of these first attempts in transition. That’s a lot, but perhaps not alarming. Around half of these transition attempts came after rebounds and that number seems pretty average too. ( I don’t have ranks for this stat, but I checked out some other teams and the UNCW numbers were pretty normal).

Defensive Rebounding: The Seahawks gave up a lot of second-chance opportunities. They were getting better, and I assume that has something to do with the emergence of the young big-men.

CONCLUSIONS (Feel free to skip this. It won’t hurt my feelings)

We all like Kev and we are all rooting for him. That said, he has not had a good defensive showing as a head coach. He had the best defense in the CAA during his first season. That slipped to 4th in 2016 and 5th in 2017. He has a reputation for pressing and on-ball pressure, but his teams don’t have that statistical fingerprint. I got that feeling watching the 3 UNCW games I have found over the past week so I was not surprised to see it in the numbers.

The conventional wisdom is that the administration will help him address this through the coaching staff. While that is certainly possible, I am not sure there is much precedent for such a turnaround. I went back and looked at some of the coaches who have excelled on the defensive end this year to see how they performed in their stepping-stone jobs. Of the 15-or-so coaches I looked at (guys like Cronin, Bennett, White, Huggins, Martin, Cal, Marshall), all of them had good defenses every year no matter where they were, or they at least showed a pattern of improvement that led to consistent quality.

I think the takeaway here is that we have taken a chance on a coach with 3-years of NCAA coaching experience in a small conference. As much as you may like him, you have to admit this is a hire based more on potential than track record. We should realize that it is going to take some time to get things right. There may be reason to think he will have a top-25 offense next year. He has the track record. There is very little reason to think he will have a top-50 defense in the next 3 years. I think we need to be ok with that.