Pace, Space, and High Stakes (HV Weekly: 1/31/2020)

As the calendar turns to February, the pressure cranks up a notch.

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

Glad you’re here.

This week, tragic news rocked the basketball world and reminded us all about how much impact this game can have on lives and communities. We are lucky — and wildly grateful — to write and talk about this sport, understand its impact, and build meaningful relationships, all based on a bouncing ball and a hardwood floor.

This sport matters to so many people, with its true impact felt far beyond the scoreboard. Unfortunate and jarring as it was, this week offered us a somber reminder of that impact.


Resetting to the action on the court, we have the deepest weekend slate of the season.

Yes, it feels like we say that every week, but this week it’s true; the facts back it up! While we don’t have any marquee top-five type matchups, we have very few duds.

Tomorrow the calendar turns to February, and we enter the real pressure cooker of the season. The turning of the calendar page may be symbolic, but the stakes are real. Programs are fighting for postseason berths, coaching staffs are fighting for job stability, and seniors are staring directly at the end of their playing careers.

Lots to cover in this edition. Let’s go!!

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(*Reminder: Team rankings and score projections via
  • 36 games between teams ranked in the kenpom Top 100 (season high!)

  • 22 games between teams in Top 68

  • 12 games between Top 48 teams

  • games between Top 32

…and some of the fun ones:

Highest-ranked matchups…

High-Major: Texas Tech (#24) at Kansas (#1)
”Low-Major” Special: 
UNC Greensboro (#62) at East Tennessee State (#79)

Biggest Projected Blowout…

Dayton 76, Fordham 50

Projected Highest-Scoring Game(s)…

Wright State 87, Green Bay 81

Projected Lowest-Scoring Game…

Saint Peter’s 61, Manhattan 56


Game To Watch

Saturday’s Big East tilt between Villanova and Creighton features two of the most prolific offensive programs of the past decade.

Since Greg McDermott was hired by Creighton prior to the 2011 season, both McDermott and Jay Wright rank in the top 10 in average adjusted offensive efficiency. Moreover, both coaches have cultivated that level of efficiency with similar philosophies about the three-pointer.

There have been 107 coaches who have had a Division I head coaching job every single season since 2011. The graph below shows how the average McDermott and Wright teams have shot the three-pointer, relative to the entire group of 107 coaches.

Over 40% of shot attempts for Villanova and Creighton have been from behind the three-point line since the 2011 season. McDermott and Wright are two of only 12 coaches with that level of three-point volume — and the only two from high-major conferences.

The three-point shooting has translated into overall offensive efficiency as well. Among those same 107 coaches, Jay Wright ranks #4 in adjusted offensive efficiency while Greg McDermott ranks #10.

kenpom Projection: Villanova 75, Creighton 70
(68% Villanova win probability)

Finding the Wright Pace?

By Matt Giles (@hudsongiles) // HV Weekly Contributor

It’s rare that a Division I program undergoes a wholesale change in philosophy without a coaching change. In fact, that idea of instilling a new “philosophy” is often the reason why programs make a change in leadership.

This season, amongst the handful of teams which have significantly restructured their tempo, only two have a positive adjusted efficiency margin.

One is Alabama — yep, a coaching change — where Nate Oats brought in his emphasis on pace; his squads at Buffalo were consistently top-40 nationally in tempo.

The other? A not-so-obvious answer: Wright State and four-year head coach Scott Nagy — whose attitude toward high-tempo basketball has historically been, well, the opposite of Oats’.

In 2019, the Raiders used about 65 possessions per game — well below the DI average, and within the bottom third nationally of pace rankings (per kenpom). This season, WSU is using about six additional possessions per game, and takes less than 16 seconds to attempt a shot. It’s the fastest of any team for Nagy, who has been a head coach for 15 seasons (11 at South Dakota State, 4 at Wright State).

Why the tweak?

As Nagy recently explained to The Athletic’s Brian Bennett, the shift coincided with two offseason changes. One was the addition of key freshmen additions Trey Calvin and Tanner Holden, which has enabled the Raiders to use a pseudo-four guard lineup and space the floor more evenly than past squads (according to, WSU scores 1.18 PPP when both are on the floor in Horizon League play, up from 1.10 PPP when either player is on the bench).

The other factor was center Loudon Love losing sixty pounds: “We play with four guards most of the time, so this makes it easier to keep the pace and play like we want to play.” So far, the team has benefited from the ideological evolution: WSU has a record of 18-4 and not only leads the Horizon League, but looks primed to capture the conference’s NCAA tournament auto-bid.

But what’s truly fascinating about Nagy’s embrace of playing in transition is that it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Per Synergy, WSU is only scoring 0.99 points per fast break, which is down from the team’s rate (1.3ppp on the break) a year ago. But all those extra possessions add up, and the team is now scoring about 14 points in transition per 40 minutes, an astounding increase from the 7.6 transition points per 40 last season.

That’s a massive change, and coupled with a few other tweaks to Nagy’s basketball ideology — the team gobbles 35 percent of its misses — Wright State could find itself as an intriguing Cinderella candidate come March.

Back again with a little section where we plug Hoop Vision products!

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Keep an eye out for more digital products as we approach March.



Within the college hoops community, there has been some real buzz around San Francisco’s intentional fouling strategy. Last Saturday, the Dons emerged with an important home win over BYU — and the story of the game was, yes, intentional fouls.

This week, we went even deeper on the how-and-why of this strategy, as the latest episode of our Solving Basketball podcast featured San Francisco head coach Todd Golden discussing the math behind the Dons’ fouling strategies, along with how he gains buy-in from players and staff. (Listen: Apple // Spotify // YouTube)

Staying on the topic of buy-in and decision making, the latest piece on Hoop Vision Plus delved into the psychology around coaching decisions, and the reasons why coaches often make irrational decisions. An excerpt:

If you have read some of our work this season, there’s been one constant theme: Trade-offs.

There are hundreds of different areas a basketball team would theoretically benefit from excelling in, but a coach’s job is to prioritize. It’s the reason we probably won’t see a Greg Gard team urgently push the ball or a Mick Cronin team take hyper-efficient shots anytime soon.

Perhaps the best example of a tangible trade-off — which has personally fascinated me for almost seven years now — comes from turnovers. At first glance, there is a particular type of coach that seems to act irrationally regarding turnover philosophy.

On the one hand, this (not so) hypothetical coach — let’s call him Dave Paulsen or Bo Ryan — values taking care of the basketball at an extreme level. Their teams are regularly towards the top of the national leaderboard in offensive turnover percentage.

On the other hand, this same coach doesn’t value aggressively getting into passing lanes and generating steals. Their teams are regularly towards the bottom of the national leaderboard in defensive turnover percentage — usually thanks to a pack-line style of defense.

This type of philosophy might seem irrational, but only on a surface level. Ultimately, turnover percentage only matters to the extent that it impacts overall efficiency. The goal isn’t necessarily to have a stylistically consistent attitude towards offense and defense, the goal is to maximize points per possession.


Also on HV+ this week: the weekly staple Starting Five, in which we take a look at five actions, trends or topics from the weekend slate.

This week’s topics included the notes on San Francisco’s intentional fouling strategy, plus the following:

  • Close game winning percentage (ahem…LSU)

  • Kentucky’s stationary “Spain” ball screen usage

  • Texas Tech: new-look roster, same defensive scheme.

  • Richmond’s Princeton offense and the Nikola Jokic of college hoops.

Click/tap to view full HV+ post.

Elsewhere, while the three-point revolution will be felt in full force during the Creighton-Villanova matchup, not every team can be a Creighton or Villanova with a roster full of shooters and a system geared toward the three:

And in case you’re saying to yourself, “I wish I could see this as a graph…”

Have no fear. Your graph is here:

Lots of X’s and O’s on Twitter this week, including a special look at Murray State which caught the attention of a certain former Murray State point guard…

Some more X’s and O’s and tactical nuggets from the week:

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That’s it for this week!

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