Outliers of the Decade (HV Weekly: 1/3/2020)

Shot selection, records against the spread, and decade consistency.

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly. Glad you are here; we always appreciate you taking the time to read the Weekly and being part of this ever-growing community.

Pretty exciting times in college basketball, as conference play begins in full force this weekend; familiarity begins becoming a factor as coaches put together gameplans against longtime foes. Schedules begin to get tougher for many high-major stalwarts (true road games!), while many smaller programs breathe a sigh of relief that a brutal “buy game” schedule is coming to its end (true home games!).

Like many other media outlets this week, we also took the turning of the calendar this week as an excuse to run some end-of-decade content, as we released some All-Decade favorites and insights to Hoop Vision Plus subscribers.

All-Decade Week at HV+

  1. Monday — Play Type Trends. The statistical changes in college basketball over the past decade.

  2. Tuesday — Top 10 Actions of the Decade. An arbitrary list of the best X's and O's from the 2010s.

  3. Wednesday — Coach Continuity. The 42 programs that went the entire decade without a coaching change.

For full access to All-Decade week — and to support independent college basketball work — join the hundreds of subscribers already in the HV+ community for $10/month or $100/annually.

Today we wrap-up All-Decade week with the outliers of the 2010s. More specifically, we narrowed in on three subjects:

[1] Shot selection [2] Records against the spread [3] Consistency

[1] Shot Selection


As we have covered in the past, halfcourt shots are classified into six categories: Around basket, post-ups, runners, short jumpers, medium jumpers, three-pointers.

Just like you might expect, shots around the basket have the highest average expected value. Three-point shots have the second-highest average expected value.

So which programs were the most analytically friendly of the decade? The list below ranks the top five:

  1. William & Mary (78% coming from the rim or three)

  2. Belmont (77% coming from the rim or three)

  3. Eastern Kentucky (77% coming from the rim or three)

  4. Princeton (76% coming from the rim or three)

  5. Michigan (76% coming from the rim or three)

If we nail things down further to individual seasons, the best shot selection teams all come from 2018 and 2019. College teams have shifted to a more efficient approach, even if some of the top programs still do things a bit more traditionally.

From a player perspective, Trey Freeman stands out as the ultimate shot selection outlier of the decade. Freeman started his career at Campbell, where he took 321 two-point jumpers (making 43%) in two seasons. But his shot selection got even more extreme after transferring.

At Old Dominion, Freeman led the country in shot volume. When he was on the court, Freeman accounted for 39% of ODU shots. More specifically, he took a staggering 691 two-point jumpers during his junior and senior seasons. Freeman made a very respectable 45% of those jump shots. Old Dominion finished 124th and 137th in adjusted offensive efficiency over those two seasons.

[2] Against the Spread Results


It’s inherently difficult for a team to beat the spread over the long run. Betting markets react to new information (like recent performance) and adjust accordingly. If a team beats the spread 10 games in a row, the market will self-correct.

But when you have 353 DI teams, there are bound to be some winners and losers against the spread — even over an entire decade. The list below ranks the top five winning percentages against the spread:

  1. Yale (58%)

  2. Virginia (57%)

  3. Wichita State (57%)

  4. Villanova (56%)

  5. Oregon (56%)

Teams ranked two-thru-five all have something big in common: They went to at least one Final Four during the decade. And yet Yale is the team that tops the list with a 58% winning percentage versus the spread.

It was a strong decade for James Jones’ program — who has been the head coach of Yale since 2000. Yale finished with two NCAA tournament appearances, one NCAA win, and even a top 50 KenPom finish.

From a coach perspective, Bob Richey led the way against the spread for the decade. He is only in his third season, but Richey’s Furman teams have beat the spread in 64% of games. On the other side of things, Todd Howard recorded the worst record against the spread — winning just 33% of games. He was fired at IUPUI after just three seasons.

[3] Consistency


Consistency is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just as easy (well, probably even easier) for a program to be consistently bad as it is for a program to be consistently good.

To look at consistency, we calculated the standard deviation of each team’s adjusted efficiency margin during the decade. In other words, the most consistent teams are the ones with similar KenPom rankings each season — regardless of if that average ranking is good or bad. The list below ranks the top five most consistent:

  1. Alabama

  2. Sacred Heart

  3. Colorado

  4. DePaul

  5. UMKC

It wasn’t a particularly good decade for Alabama, but it was a consistent one. The Crimson Tide finished with just two NCAA tournament appearances and one top 50 KenPom appearance., but they also never completely bottomed out.

Now we have the top five least consistent teams below:

  1. Furman

  2. Texas Tech

  3. Southern Miss

  4. Grambling State

  5. Saint Louis

Texas Tech and Chris Beard are the best example of inconsistency being a (potentially) good thing. The Red Raiders started out the decade slow with several coaching changes, only to end it with Elite Eight and Final Four appearances in back-to-back seasons.


(*Reminder: Team rankings and score projections via KenPom.com)
  • 36 games between teams ranked in the KenPom Top 100

  • 21 games between teams in Top 68

  • 13 games between Top 48 teams

  • games between Top 32

  • game between Top 16

Game To Watch

#12 Michigan at #4 Michigan State
Sunday 1:30pm ET (CBS)

Last season, Michigan and Michigan State played each other three times in a three week span. Michigan State came away with the series sweep, a share of the Big 10 regular season title, and a Big 10 tournament title.

This season, the series begins much earlier this season — but the key matchups are still largely the same. Zavier Simpson is 3rd in the country in assist rate and uses 17.5 ball screens per game. Cassius Winston is 18th in the country in assist rate and uses 11.4 ball screens per game.

Michigan State was willing to switch Simpson ball screens last season and give Xavier Tillman extra responsibility to keep the ball in front. If they go to that again this season — which seems fairly likely — we could potentially see more Jon Teske post-ups as a result. Teske used just 38 total post-ups last season under John Beilein. He’s used 52 post-ups in 13 games so far this season.

Teske is shooting a strong 58% on post-ups, but he hasn’t shown consistent ability as a passer out of the post. Granted, that could mostly be a function of how defenses choose to guard him — and it will be interesting to see what Tom Izzo chooses to do on Sunday.

For Michigan State’s offense, it usually comes down to if the supporting cast can hit shots after Winston draws two to the ball. Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, and Kyle Ahrens are all shooting between 34% and 37% this season.

Film Room:

— Thomas Kithier ball screen defense
— Zavier Simpson chin passes


Some other fun ones

Highest-ranked matchups…

High-Major: Michigan (#12) at Michigan State (#5)
”Low-Major” Special: 
East Tennessee State (#70) at Furman (#71)

Biggest Projected Blowout…

Gonzaga 92, Pepperdine 71

Projected Highest-Scoring Games…

Central Arkansas 83, McNeese State 81

Projected Lowest-Scoring Game(s)…

Virginia 57, Virginia Tech 51


Looking back quite a bit less than a full decade, here are your top 25 teams of December, based on adjusted efficiency solely within the month.

And now to look back a bit less than a full month, last weekend’s marquee game was, naturally, Kentucky’s overtime win over in-state rival Louisville — and as is customary, UK-UL got the full Hoop Vision treatment.

Over on YouTube, we detailed Kentucky’s main offensive action in the win. The five-minute video features both game film and post-game reactions from Chris Mack and John Calipari.

YouTube: How Kentucky's Baseline Runner Series Beat Louisville

We then dove deeper into the matchup on the Big Game Pod (iTunes/Spotify). Including Louisville’s surprising offensive switch to Chin Continuity.

More X’s and O’s tweets from the past week:

That’s it for this week!

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