Baseball has long been considered a statisticians paradise. Or as Robert S. Weider put it, “Baseball fans are junkies, and their heroin is the statistic”. Recently, however, and due in part to the work of men such as Ken Pomeroy, basketball is angling for its share of the statisticians addiction. Pomeroy took part in the following Q&A:
1. For those not familiar, what motivated the creation of kenpom.com, and what information does the site afford its subscribers?
It grew out of a desire to have a reference for evaluating D-I teams and players. Stats don’t tell the whole story, of course, but often times the eyes don’t either. And if your team is playing somebody obscure, there might not be much eye-based information available on your opponent anyway. So I tried to build something that would bridge that gap and give fans a fighting chance to be experts themselves.
2. Was it an interest in mathematics/statistics or sports which originally started you on the path to converging the two?
I don’t think it’s possible to separate the two. Without one or the other, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing. I love watching the game, but I love the statistical side of it as well, and it’s through that prism that I learn things.
3. The “Four Factors” approach is what originally attracted me to your work. For the uninitiated, what are the “Four Factors”, and how does your site/work apply the combination to college basketball?
The Four Factors are based on a concept that Dean Oliver developed whereby almost all of a team’s offense (or defense) can be explained by four things: shooting, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. So if you’re evaluating what a team does well, those are the best high-level things to start with.
4. With “one and done” and transfers on the rise, how does your pre-season ratings system account for increased roster turnover?
Basically, the preseason ratings look at who’s coming back, how important they were last season, and their class. As far as transfers and freshman, they aren’t included directly, and the system just assumes any new players are going to play at a level worse that last season’s team (unless they are highly rated recruits).
5. The 2012-13 NCAA basketball season is on the horizon. Which 3-4 teams do you consider most intriguing (and why)?
Usually it takes a month or two for those kinds of teams to wind up on my radar. The most intriguing teams are ones that are underrated or overrated by the media, or teams that are misunderstood. Early on, I’m most intrigued by Kansas State, as there’s some reason to think they’ll be pretty good, but are getting very little interest from national scribes. Lots of similarities there to Missouri last season.
6. I assume the subjective nature of the NCAA Tournament selection process doesn’t sit well with your analytic/objective approach. What, if any, changes would you make to the process?
Eh, it’s not really that bad. My biggest beef is that the basketball committee is charged with selecting the best teams to fill the at-large pool but their methods don’t really accomplish that in that they ignore margin of victory and overvalue performance on the road. The other beef is that they do actually use objective data, but their choice of data and how to use it is fairly bizarre. But even so, they don’t screw up the bracket too badly.
7. Free Throw Rate (free throw attempts / field goal attempts) “captures a team’s ability to get to the free throw line” and is prevalent in your review of college basketball teams. Some analytics have adjusted the formula to factor Free throws “made” as opposed to “attempted”. Why do you prefer the focus on “attempts”?
In general, I prefer separating skills. Using free throws made mixes a team’s ability to get the free throw line with its ability to make free throws. I think if you’re evaluating a team, you’d like to know (a) how often does the opponent get to the line and (b) how good their free throw shooting is, rather than combining the two entirely separate skills into one number.
8. Weber State’s Damian Lillard grabbed the 2011-2012 kenpom.com Player of the Year award (at least 28% of possessions used). Which 3-4 players do you expect to compete for the 2012-13 version of the award?
Actually, Draymond Green won my player of the year award (kPOY), but Lillard was definitely one of the most valuable players to his team. Cody Zeller was 9th in my formula last season and is the highest ranked returning player, so he’s probably the favorite, although it would be close with DeShaun Thomas. If N.C. State is in the mix for a one-seed, C.J. Leslie will be in the race as well.
9. Batting Average was long considered a keystone Major League Baseball stat. Recently, BA has taken a backseat to OPS (On Base % + Slug%) and other “advanced” statistics. Any parallels on the basketball side?
I don’t think there’s a silver bullet like that unless you want to consider points per possession. The main thing about advanced hoops stats is that they always try to account for opportunity and isolate skills, which is something most old school stats don’t do very well.
10. There has been some talk of ending the practice of NBA players competing for Team USA in the next Olympics. If that came to fruition, and you were asked to comprise a two-deep roster of 2012-13 D1 players, who would make the cut (and why)?