Analysis: Last 5 Venue-Appropriate Games
The charts below illustrate the performance for each team over their last 5 venue-appropriate games. The red bar represents each team's current Sagarin Predictor rating, which represents overall team strength. The "Performance" is calculated by taking the opponent's Sagarin rating for the game and adding (subtracting) the margin of victory (loss) for each game. Homecourt advantage is also factored into the equation. The black line represents the linear trend over the last five games for the team.
In this analysis, Kansas has done better than its season average rating by about 4.4 points in the last five games away from home. KU has played at or above its season average in three of those five games, so the consistency is fairly good. The trend is quite downward, but that is misleading. It's because of such an extraordinary performance at Temple that pretty much any level of play after that would be lower. This is simply a case of the outlier game being the first game analyzed. If you take out the Temple performance, it would be a very healthy uptick actually. On the other hand, that 4.4-point cushion over the season average would basically be wiped out as well. But cushion is hardly necessary for Kansas if you look at the numbers. The Jayhawks' performance over the last five road games would be good enough to beat any of CU's performances in its last five home games by double digits, and it's good enough to beat CU's season average performance by 20! Only if you look at KU's worst game (@ Tennessee) does CU have a chance. In the event that KU plays at that level, CU has two games in its last five that check in higher. But even that terrible performance by KU is good enough for a 1 or 2-point victory against CU's typical season performance.
The Buffaloes have actually played slightly better in their last five home games than they have all season with a rating of about 1.5 points above their season rating. What's more, the trend is nicely positive as their last three games have been well above their season average. Keep in mind that two of those games were against two of the best in the Big 12 (Baylor, Kansas State). But at the end of the day, CU's best performance (vs Baylor) would only be good enough to beat KU's worst performance, and it would lose even to the average KU game.
In summary, over the last five venue-appropriate games for each team, Kansas has been 20.5 points better than Colorado. Based on season average ratings, the Jayhawks should be favored by 13.5 points, but this specific analysis gives KU 16.4-point cushion.
Player Ratings - Cumulative This Season
(For explanation of ratings, go to sportsandnumbers.com under "FAQ & Terms." They use possession-based principles and measure either total impact or efficiency. These are further broken down into offensive and defensive ratings. For defensive ratings, negative is better. As a point of reference, a rating of zero is equal to the average NCAA player. ePSAN and ePSAN70 weighs recent games more, but PSAN and PSAN70 weighs all games equally. "O" on end = offense, "D"= defense, "Comp"= composite)
ePSAN ("Total Impact")
ePSAN70 ("Efficiency" - per 70 possessions)
* Rating not based on enough data.
PSAN ("Total Impact")
PSAN70 ("Efficiency" - per 70 possessions)
* Rating not based on enough data.
(largely in context of ratings above)
As he did last season, Cole Aldrich leads the way in the statistical rankings for Kansas this time around. Where other players on the team may have strong ratings on one side of the ball, Aldrich ranks #1 on defense and #2 on offense in impact (#3 on offensive efficiency). Right off the bat, take a look at his "floor percentage" of 63.3%, good for second on the team. This means that 63% of the possessions that he uses end because he has scored, not because he has missed a shot or turned it over. He shoots a healthy 55 eFG% and sports the best free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of anyone on the team who plays significant minutes. Still, he picks his spots as evidenced by his 20% possession usage rate, which means he's right at the average (1 out of 5 players on the court). Three key areas that Aldrich excels are his work on both sides of the rebounding battle and his ability to block shots. He rebounds one of four opponent misses and blocks one of every seven opponent two-pointers. All three of these key parameters push more possessions KU's way, which translates into more points no matter how efficiently KU is scoring. On the nation's most efficient team overall (according to KenPom.com), Aldrich is the statistical anchor.
But you can hear it now, the chants for Sherron Collins as MVP of this team. And it certainly is no stretch to call him such. Basketball provides an excellent backdrop for the discussion of whether timing truly matters. At the end of a hard-fought matchup, when Kansas and the opponent are tied with 30 seconds left to go, and Collins scores the winning layup, was it Collins who mattered most? What if Aldrich's defensive rebounds and blocks resulted in about 7 points differential, such that KU would never have been in the position to win the game without his efforts? Human nature tends to reward the guy whose heroics coincided most closely with the end result and tends to overlook the many cumulative efforts that it took to get to that point. Obviously, a team will be more successful if it has the guy who makes winning shots game after game after game, but that guy will only be important when his team is in the right position.
With all those disclaimers aside, we can now look at Sherron Collins from a statistical standpoint. On the PSAN ratings system, he ranks #5 on the team in offensive efficiency and 2nd to last in defensive efficiency. Believe it or not, his 54 eFG% is one of the lower ones on the team. It's a rare day when Collins gets an offensive rebound, and his assist rate is not unusually high for a creator (#329 in the nation). Collins is also one of the least efficient at getting to the free throw line despite his many acrobatic drives into the lane. So, he rates pretty well in offensive efficiency but not all that well, especially compared to several other players on the nation's #1 offense. Defensively, Collins has a mere 6% rate for DREB and a respectable but not standout STL% (2.2). Combine that with his inability to block shots, and you see that his defensive statistical fingerprint is quite unimpressive. It is no surprise that people talk about how "fearless" he is and his "leadership" instead of his monster stats, because a closer look at many of his high-scoring games often still leave a little something to be desired.
If there is a guy for KU who shines nearly as bright on paper as Aldrich, it's Marcus Morris. At the beginning of the season, it looked like Markieff was keeping pace with Marcus in the Twin Improvement Project, but Marcus has really distinguished himself, particularly as conference season has taken off. On the season, Marcus now shoots 60 eFG% and draws plenty of fouls in order to utilize the FT line very effectively (52% FTA/FGA). He rebounds at an equal frequency on both sides of the ball, but that means his offensive rebounding is more impressive, as it's about twice as difficult to grab boards there. He does just enough of everything else to rate as the most efficient player on offense. But like Collins, his defensive numbers don't look all that impressive. While he gets a nice share of defensive rebounds per game, many more than Collins, that edge is essentially countered by his extra fouls per game. It takes about 3.3 defensive rebounds to equal one extra possession, which is worth about a point.
Xavier Henry started the season with sizzling offensive numbers but has since cooled considerably. Surprisingly, his strong STL% (3.8 - #84 in nation) and decent DREB% have catapulted his defensive efficiency to second on the team, but a far cry from Aldrich still. Henry has really struggled shooting the ball of late but still has a cumulative 54 eFG%, including 40% from behind the arc. The fact that he takes a higher percentage of the team's shots than any other major player means that his relatively middle-of-the-pack eFG% is not boosting his offensive efficiency rating. If he could get to the free throw line with more regularity (3rd worst among regulars), he could really crank it up a notch.
Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed have recently become the first two options at the "2" spot ahead of Tyshawn Taylor. And the numbers support Self's decision to prioritize them that way. Morningstar has the second best offensive efficiency behind Marcus Morris, which is very nice to see, as he doesn't do a lot of the typically visible things that show up in the boxscore. Right now it is mostly due to his stellar 63 eFG% (46 3FG%) and 2.7 STL%. The fact that he doesn't use many possessions skews his AST% downward, but he has a very nice 2.8 AST-to-TO ratio, which means he's handling the ball extremely well despite not being a major creator. Reed has flourished because of his shooting (64 eFG%, 44 3FG%) and nice low TO% (15). That's exactly what you want from your spot-up specialist and occasional ball handler. But of course, he throws in a 2.9% STL rate to boot.
Markieff Morris and Tyshawn Taylor have had interesting trajectories this season. Morris started the season on an absolute tear, looking as though he'd never miss a shot. He has predictably tailed off of late and particularly struggled at the FT line (56% on the season), something that translates effectively into a turnover. His DREB% and BLK% are keeping him high on the defensive efficiency side, while his early season efforts gave him the cushion to stay at 60 eFG% on the season. Taylor has been the whipping boy for many fans, and it's not hard to see why. He makes way too many turnovers (25 TO%) for a guy who is not supposed to be one of the primary options on offense. He has a decent 1.8 AST-to-TO ratio, but that TO% is just too much to compensate for effectively. A decent 2.6 STL% and healthy FTA/FGA keep his overall rating from slipping anywhere near average (zero), but his numbers certainly don't resemble the potential NBA pick that some had envisioned him as preseason.
On the Colorado side of things, Alec Burks has been the man based on numbers. The 6-6 freshman guard sensation has a very impressive floor percentage (59%). While he takes about the highest percentage of shots on the team (27% just behind Higgins), he makes 56 eFG%, which is more than the CU average. Adept at utilizing the FT line (62% FTA/FGA), Burks blends in just the right number of rebounds on both ends and keeps his TO's at rock bottom (13%) to hold the top spot in both impact and efficiency on the team.
Cory Higgins may be the guy most people think of first when they think of the Buffaloes though. Incredibly, he takes an even higher percentage of shots (28%) and makes right around the team average (54 eFG%) while sporting a very nice 54% FTA/FGA. But he rarely gets any OREB and makes a few more turnovers. Combined with his slightly poorer shooting, Higgins checks in #2 in impact and efficiency but #1 in defensive efficiency courtesy of his 3.1% STL rate.
The only other Buffalo with decent impact and efficiency has been Dwight Thorne II. His best attributes rest on offense, with a 63 eFG% and 47% FTA/FGA, good enough to rank #1 in offensive efficiency on the team.
On the other end of the spectrum, CU has had some players who have really struggled. Worst among them is Marcus Relphorde who still shoots a whopping 26% of shots while on the floor despite a horrid 46 eFG%. He counters with a decent 2.6% STL rate but also has more TO than AST. And though Shane Harris-Tunks plays fewer minutes than Relphorde, he has an even lower efficiency. Harris-Tunks is a bizarre case of a guy who shoots an amazing 62 eFG% but manages to turn the ball over on a whopping 48% of possessions used. Somebody get this guy some crazy glue.
Note: Some statistics and rankings from Statsheet.com