Analysis of Lickliter's Six Years at Butler

Marty Gallagher weighs in on Iowa's next coach, Todd Lickliter. Marty has provided an in depth analysis of Lickliter's coaching resume, his style and a glimpse into what Lickliter's Iowa teams might looking like in the future...

By now, you've probably read some good information about how successful Coach Todd Lickliter was at Butler.  You probably know that his team won 29 games this season, that his teams won the conference title (REGULAR SEASON, by the way) 3 times in 6 years and that he led Butler to the Sweet 16 twice in the last 5 seasons.

You may also know that both times that he took his team to the Big Dance, he not only led them to the Sweet 16, but it took a #1 seed to knock
Butler out (Florida in 2007 and Oklahoma in 2003).  And in both of those post-season losses to top-seeded teams, Butler fought hard and kept the game quite competitive throughout (despite being physically over-matched).

These are all very good things.  There is absolutely NO DOUBT in my mind that the Iowa basketball program is in much, much better hands than it was in for the last 8 seasons.  No doubt at all.  The Hawkeye program has taken a step up, so now fans are asking, "What should we expect?" and "What kind of style does Coach Lickliter like to play?"

I'm interested in those answers, too.  So, I researched each of the 6 teams that Coach Lickliter had at Butler and found some definite statistical trends.

While I can't provide a complete analysis without watching game tapes, there are certain things that I believe the numbers are saying.  Here are some of my thoughts…

I spelled out my thoughts on this in a previous post, but the "short story" is that Coach Lickliter's two Butler teams that played in the Big Dance were VERY impressive.  Clearly, they were focused, disciplined and well-coached.  They defeated teams they weren't supposed to beat.  Plus, they were able to win close games.  Very much to like about those two Sweet 16 teams (2003 and 2007).

During his 6 seasons, Coach Lickliter's teams had a very impressive league mark of 65-31 (.677), which included THREE regular-season titles.  Butler had a winning record in 4 of those 6 seasons, a .500 record once (8-8 in 2004) and sub-.500 once (7-9 in 2005).  No matter how you slice it, 3 conference championships in 6 seasons is tremendous.  For the sake of comparison, Iowa's last Big Ten title was in 1979 (when "My Sharona" was one of the top songs in the nation).

During his 6 seasons, Coach Lickliter's teams had a .500 record in road games (40-40).  That's not a bad showing for a 6-year run.  Not bad at all.  This included 3 fantastic seasons on the road (2002, 2003 and 2007), which accounted for a 28-12 mark … and 3 not-so-fantastic seasons on the road (2004, 2005, 2006), which accounted for a 12-28 road record.

Overall, though, a .500 record on the road is pretty good.  Especially when you compare it to what the Iowa program has "achieved" on the road the last few seasons.  I was only able to quickly get Iowa's road record for the last four seasons … and the Hawks were 13-30 on the road (.302) during that stretch.  The best season was 4-7 in 2006.  To reiterate: the Iowa program is now in better hands than it has been in quite a while.

Here are the numbers for FG% Defense for Coach Lickliter's Butler teams:

2002:  .432
2003:  .444
2004:  .445
2005:  .468
2006:  .464
2007:  .406

Very, very good in 2007.  Good in 2002.  And otherwise, pretty average with the numbers hovering around 45 to 46%.  By comparison, Iowa's FG% Defense the last four seasons have been better than that (.441, .380, .419 and .406).

Part of the reason, I'm guessing, is that Butler has gone with a more perimeter-based attack and therefore, has used a physically smaller lineup than most of its opponents (but I could be wrong on that).  This would lead me to believe that Butler's opponents (other than in 2002 and 2007) were able to score in the paint on a fairly consistent basis.  That's not what you want to see, but depending on the lineup you have on the court, it might be a necessary evil.  Without watching any tape, it's hard to analyze this much further.

OK … are you sitting down?  Take a good look at these numbers because we haven't seen anything like THIS in Iowa City in a LONNNNNG time.  Here are Butler's average numbers of turnovers per game during the last 6 seasons:

2002:  10.1
2003:  10.7
2004:  10.3
2005:  10.1
2006:  8.8
2007:  9.5

Ummm … do these numbers even seem POSSIBLE?  After double-checking … YES, Butler did have the same shot-clock rules as the college basketball teams we've been watching.  And Coach Lickliter's teams have averaged anywhere from 62.4 to 70.3 points per game during those seasons, so they haven't been winning too many games by 42 to 40 scores.

But, it is OBVIOUS that these Butler teams took great care of the basketball.  This is clearly something that is taught and prioritized.  As a result, Coach Lickliter's teams did not beat themselves.  Pretty refreshing, huh?

On the other hand, the last four Iowa teams have averaged anywhere from 13.5 to 16.3 turnovers per game.  Think that makes much of a difference in close games?  Or against top-notch competition?  Absolutely.

Now, take a look at Butler's assist-to-turnover ratios for those seasons:

2002:  1.4
2003:  1.2
2004:  1.1
2005:  1.2
2006:  1.5
2007:  1.3

Again, these are very good numbers.  You always want your team "in the black" in this category, of course, and once you get up over 1.2, you're really doing a good job of executing your offense in an efficient manner.  It takes discipline, intelligence, focus and a high skill level to reach these numbers.  Butler was very consistent the last 6 seasons, for sure.

Anything less than 1.1 isn't very good and when you dip below 1.0, you've got problems.  Iowa 's last four seasons looked like this:  1.1, 1.0, 1.1, 0.9.

Looking at these numbers provided my first "uh-oh" moment of the Todd Lickliter Era.  When you take a look at all of the numbers from his 6 seasons at Butler, it becomes pretty clear that his teams were very perimeter-oriented and as a result, FG% defense and rebounding suffered a bit … and probably FT attempts per game did, as well.  The tradeoff was that these Butler teams did a fantastic job of taking care of the ball and made up a lot of ground on teams from behind the three-point arc.

Regardless, though, of the style of play or physical size of the team you put on the floor, rebounding is a phase of the game that CAN be taught and improved throughout a season for a team … and throughout a career for an individual.  It takes effort, positioning, desire, attitude and timing.  The bottom line is that rebounding – boxing out and attacking the ball – can be taught.

So, I was disappointed to see the Rebounding Margin (per game) numbers from Butler the last 6 seasons:

2002:  -1.7
2003:  -2.6
2004:  -0.8
2005:  -5.1
2006:  -7.7
2007:  -1.4

Ouch.  Not too good.  Pretty bad, in fact.

For comparison's sake, Iowa's Rebounding Margin (per game) for the last four seasons looks like this:  -1.0, +3.4, +1.4, +3.7.

As I said, I would guess that these Butler numbers are sort of "a product of the system" that included a physically smaller lineup and featured a perimeter attack, but this is still a pretty crucial phase of the game to keep an eye on for the Hawks.

If you didn't realize how important three-point shooting is to the college game, you didn't need to look any further than the title game between Ohio State and Florida to figure it out.  The Buckeyes couldn't connect from behind the arc (4 for 23) and the Gators kept knocking them down (10 for 18).

Coach Lickliter has clearly made the three-point arc a point of emphasis during his time at Butler, from both an offensive and defensive standpoint.  His teams connected on 3 or 4 more three-pointers per game than their opponents on a very consistent basis.  Plus, Butler's percentages were very good from behind the arc.

Here are the three-pointers made per game (and percentages) for Butler and its opponents during Coach Lickliter's 6 seasons:

2002:  Butler … 8.8 (.384);  Opp … 4.8 (.343)
2003:  Butler … 8.3 (.392);  Opp … 5.0 (.342)
2004:  Butler … 8.2 (.343);  Opp … 5.4 (.379)
2005:  Butler … 8.4 (.372);  Opp … 4.4 (.343)
2006:  Butler … 9.1 (.381);  Opp … 4.2 (.314)
2007:  Butler … 8.9 (.369);  Opp … 5.2 (.334)

In contrast, Iowa has made more three-pointers than its opposition over the course of ONE season during the last four years (and that was by a margin of 1).

This is another category where it helps to have an interior-based offensive attack because your team will be more likely to get to the foul line on a consistent basis.

While Butler only gave up more free throw attempts per game 2 times in 6 seasons (2004 and 2005), the numbers were awfully close during the other years (+0.9, +1.7, +0.0, +0.6).  So, getting to the free-throw line MORE than the opposition was not a strength of the Todd Lickliter years at Butler.

However, Coach Lickliter's teams were very good at knocking down their free throws as their annual percentages show:

2002:  .683
2003:  .719
2004:  .763
2005:  .739
2006:  .704
2007:  .760

For the last 5 seasons, Butler has shot a higher percentage at the free-throw line than its opposition.  In fact, in 4 of those seasons, Butler shot anywhere from 5 to 8% better at the FT line than its opponents.  This is another phase of the game that can be all the difference in a close game.  And this appears to be another case where Coach Lickliter's teams have stressed the fundamentals of the game.

Without watching game tapes, it's hard to give a definitive answer about what to expect from Coach Lickliter's teams in Iowa City.  However, I think that the numbers do give us a pretty good hint about certain things, including:

** His teams take great care of the basketball and don't beat themselves with very many wasted possessions.

** His teams feature a perimeter-based attack that makes great usage of the three-point arc, while also doing a solid job of defending the three-pointer.

** His teams have been extremely efficient with the ball and typically have very good assist-to-turnover ratios.

** Shooting the ball has been a definite strength for his teams, whether it is from behind the arc or at the free-throw line.

** Rebounding is a concern.  None of his 6 teams at Butler were very strong in this phase of the game.

** His teams have played well on the road, which is probably a result of playing fundamentally-sound basketball and not making too many mistakes which lead to big runs by opponents.

** Coach Lickliter's teams have won 3 conference titles in 6 seasons, so COMPETING for a Big Ten title sometime in the near future should be a reasonable goal for the Hawkeyes.

** His teams have fared extremely well in the NCAA Tournament.  They have had strong showings even when playing top-seeded teams that have distinct advantages in size and talent.  This tells me that we can expect to see disciplined, focused, highly-skilled teams that are not intimidated by opponents or situations … and as a result, they fare pretty well in close games.

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