NEWARK, N.J. – Over the years I have maintained an interest in the statistical analysis of basketball. Today the term “tempo-free stats” is the hot terminology used by those breaking down numbers. Tempo-free is self-explanatory. It provides a number that can assess a team or performer whether said team walks the ball up the floor or pushes it to a track meet pace.
Points per possession – simply, points divided by possessions – gives us a good read on a team. For instance, a team giving up 60 points per game may or may not be a great defensive team, but one playing a “shorter” game with fewer possessions so the point totals will be lower.
Today we multiply the points per possession by 100 to give us a workable number called efficiency. Outside of efficiency, possessions or their number tell us something about a team. And a possession is defined as what you do until you lose the ball. Shoot, miss and get your rebound and you are on the same possession.
All of this brings us to the Legends Classic and its champion, Pittsburgh. Their performance over the two-day event at the Prudential Center is a perfect background in discussing tempo-free statistics.
Pitt captured the Legends Classic by defeating Texas Tech in the semifinal and Washington State in the championship. The tournament, played at the Prudential Center, not only gave the Panthers another trophy and legitimized their ranking, but drove home a crucial point: they can beat you at your pace or theirs.
Before moving on let’s look at the basic formula:
Possessions = Field Goals Attempted + (Free Throws Attempted * .475) – Offensive rebounds + Turnovers
(The .475 multiplier was derived through research by Ken Pomeroy. This allows for possessions that end with one free throw taken on a one and one and is well over 90% accurate.)
Points/Possession = PPP. Multiply this figure by 100 to arrive at efficiency.
Facing Texas Tech, Jamie Dixon’s club went up against a team that pushed the ball and had the green light on three-point attempts. Washington State, on the other hand, favors a slower half-court pace and is much more methodical. Pitt handled both challenges in impressive fashion. A tempo-free look at both contests:
Semifinal Score Efficiency
Pitt 80 105
Texas Tech 67 88
Final Score Efficiency
Pitt 57 97
Washington State 43 73
The tempo free breakdown gives a graphic illustration of the difference of Pitt’s opposition game plans in the two games. A 76-possession game is quite fast. On the other hand the 59 possession contest is more on the pedestrian side. One thing that was consistent was the Panther defense. Holding an opponent under 100 is good, under 90 is outstanding.
Another point to consider is Pitt faced quality teams on both nights. As Jamie Dixon said after the final, “I would be really surprised if any of these teams were not playing in the NCAA tournament in March.”
Washington State 63, Mississippi State 52
Pitt 80, Texas Tech 67
TexasTech 77, Mississippi State 73
Pitt 57, Washington State 43
Mississippi State finished 0-2 dropping decisions to Washington State in the semis and Texas Tech in the consolation. The trip, though, was not without reward. “We played two very good teams these two days,” said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. “We grew up a bit in a lot of areas. With time and experience we will get better but we definitely took a lot of positives from this tournament.”
One area where Stansbury wants improvement is on the free throw line. “We shot 17 of 31 in the Texas Tech game,” he said. “You just cannot shoot like that and hope to beat a good team.” Another area was the broken plays. “We just had too many possessions on defense where they (Texas Tech) used up a lot of the shot clock,” he said, “and right at the end we fouled and bailed them out.”
Texas Tech coach Pat Knight was pleased after the consolation. Not just in getting the W, but in his team’s confidence. “I was worried coming into the tournament,” he said. “Last year we got down at Texas A&M and Kansas and our pride was challenged we gave up. We got absolutely drilled. This time if we got down we responded. We proved over these two days that we can compete with anybody.”
Knight noted that the morning after the Pitt game the Tech trainer was busy tending to bruises and minor injuries. “That’s good, I told my kids,” Knight said. “Pitt is tough and coming out a little banged up shows we competed.”
Pitt mentor Jamie Dixon took time to comment on MVP Sam Young following the championship. The versatile Pitt senior was lethal from the perimeter or going to the basket. “He was a late bloomer in basketball,” Dixon said of Young. “He looked at the NBA draft last spring and decided to stay. He’s even a better player than last year. He came to us at Pitt as a five (center) and just worked on his game. He literally sleeps in the gym.”
Washington State coach Tony Bennett said Pitt reminds him of a team he sees at least twice a year, the UCLA Bruins. Shouldn’t be a surprise as Ben Howland put his mark on the Panther program before doing the same in Westwood. “Pitt , like UCLA , has size is very physical and protects the paint.” In fact Bennett sees a shift taking place in the Pac 10. “You have guys like (Ben) Howland, Tim Floyd at USC, now Mike Montgomery in at Cal, Herb Sendek at Arizona State all come in and start to turn this into more of a half court league. There’s talent but the league is more suited to tournament basketball. If you can execute half court you have a better chance of succeeding in (post season) tournament play.”
Final quote: “Pitt does not give up easy stuff. I say our kids reached a new level of fatigue tonight.” – WSU coach Tony Bennett
Tournament MVP: Sam Young, Pitt – 24 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists in championship.
Trevor Cook, Texas Tech – 24 in semifinal vs. Pitt
Kodi Augustus, Mississippi State – Double-digit scoring both nights.
Klay Thompson, Washington State – 19 pts in semifinal win.
DeJuan Blair, Pitt – 15 points, 11 boards in semis