The Nation's Deepest Playbooks (HV Weekly: 5/15/2020)

Examining massive playbooks + more three-point defense.

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

A fun one with a collaborative feel this week, as we feature Gibson Pyper’s tournament playbook project and examine it with an eye on the deepest offensive playbooks and take a refreshed look at a classic kenpom study.

But first…

Solving Basketball LIVE

On Tuesday, we produced the first-ever LIVE edition of Solving Basketball with Neil Johnson of ESPN. Neil joined the podcast for a second time to discuss the use of analytics in the recruiting and player evaluation processes.

While the first half of the interview was similar to other Solving Basketball episodes, the back half of the hour-long conversation included real-time questions from the audience. Thank you to everyone who attended, and let us know if there is another guest you’d like to see make a return to the show. For those of you who missed the live edition, we archived it below (available exclusively for HV+ subscribers).

Link: Solving Basketball LIVE with Neil Johnson — using analytics in the recruiting and player evaluation processes (HV+)

Support HV+ through the offseason and gain access to all upcoming HV+ Members-Only live events, along with our back catalog of X’s and O’s breakdowns, statistical features, and more.

The deepest playbooks in college basketball

Contrary to popular belief, college coaches don’t just “roll the ball out.”

Many casual fans fail to notice or appreciate the scripted plays, actions, and concepts their favorite team — and their rivals — rely on throughout a season.

Still, there are different schools of thought on how structured a team or offense should really be. Some teams run dozens of different set plays with various counters, some run very structured continuity-based offense, while others run more conceptual “flow” offenses.

None of these styles are inherently right or wrong. Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, for example, runs (relatively speaking) some of the simpler offensive actions in the country. Yet the Blue Devils have been the premier offensive program in the country, finishing top 10 in kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency for 12 seasons in a row.

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Gibson Pyper — the owner of and my co-host on the Big Game Pod this season — recently released his 2020 NCAA Tournament Playbook. Even though the tournament didn’t happen, Gibson took the 68 teams from ESPN’s final Bracketology field and produced a playbook for each of them.

The end result? 3,400 plays and 120 hours of film.

After all that work, Gibson was kind enough to provide us with the raw numbers on the overall size of each team’s playbook.

Granted, this is a somewhat arbitrary task. Plays often have a mixture of counters and reads. A team could theoretically be running the same called play, but trigger several different actions within it.

Players can also — believe it or not — occasionally run plays incorrectly.

When I was working for teams, those player mistakes would lead to some tricky charting situations: Do you chart the play under what was called from the bench, or by what was actually done on the court?

That being said, Gibson — with all his experience in generating these playbooks — is certainly the right guy for the task. He includes man-to-man plays, zone plays, and out of bounds plays in his playbooks. The following three teams had the most identified plays during the 2019-20 season…

[1] BYU — 78 plays

Right away, the first team on the list shows just how tricky counting plays can be. Mark Pope has been a ball screen continuity coach at Utah Valley and BYU, but with many different counters and options.

Pope’s teams tend to be very good at reading the defense and improvising. But Pope will also take control of the offense and call out the exact action or counter he wants — something that was particularly important this season to maximize Yoeli Childs.

Consider BYU’s “Thru Series” — the meat-and-potatoes of their offense this season. Gibson listed 19 different plays out of the Thru Series, alone.

[Note: Gibson’s terminology can sometimes vary from HV terminology.]

Related: Full HV+ BYU Scouting Breakdown

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[2] Utah State — 77 plays

Craig Smith and Utah State having one of the larger playbooks of the 68 teams doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The Aggies ran misdirection and quick-hitting actions for their best players — like this one for Neemias Queta.

Utah State’s two best players — Queta and Sam Merrill — also have completely different offensive games. Merrill was one of the best shooters in the country, both off the bounce and catch. Queta did the majority of his work with his back to the basket. It would make sense that those diverse skill sets led to a deeper playbook.

Gibson’s analysis also showed that Utah State goes especially deep on baseline out of bounds plays. The Aggies had 18 different options on BLOBs.

Related: Full HV+ Utah State Scouting Breakdown

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[3] Louisville — 76 plays

If you made me take an educated guess — without any further research — at which tournament-caliber teams had the largest playbook, Louisville would be right at the top.

Chris Mack will take a play and progressively add different layers to it over the course of the season. The best example of that is in their “Buckeye Series” — a set of plays most prominently used by several coaches in the Thad Matta coaching tree.

Louisville is able to disguise different options (like backdoor cuts) by starting their plays with the same basic formation and action. In total, the Cardinals had 11 different options out of the Buckeye Series.

Mack also tinkered with Louisville’s base offense throughout the season. Against Kentucky, the Cardinals surprisingly ran a significant amount of Chin Continuity, despite not using it at all in their first 12 games. With that type of tinkering, it’s no surprise Louisville was near the top of the playbook-depth leaderboard in 2019-20.

Related: Full HV+ Louisville Scouting Breakdown

More three-point defense

In one of Ken Pomeroy’s original studies on three-point defense, he split each team’s conference season into two halves. In doing so, Ken was looking to investigate how much control the defense has over certain stats.

Next, Ken compared each team’s opponents’ three-point percentage between the first half and second half of the conference season. He found that opponent three-point percentage in the first 10 games of conference play was largely unpredictive of the next 10 games.

To replicate the study, we did the same for teams from the top six high-major conferences in 2019-20. In total, there were 20 teams which held their opponents to under 30% shooting from three during their first half of the conference season.

The table below shows whether or not those 20 defenses were able to maintain their strong three-point defensive numbers in the second half of the conference season.

All but one team saw their defensive three-point percentage take a turn for the worse in the second half of conference play. In fact, opponents shot 33% against them over that time —exactly the NCAA average this season.

The whole idea of three-point defense and two-point defense being separate things is somewhat misguided — we prefer to think of it as the on-ball/off-ball spectrum. But regardless, data consistently indicates that (despite some notable exceptions) defenses have relatively little control over opponent three-point percentage.

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