Going into the Arizona game against a team that has blown out every non-UCLA team it has faced in the Pac-12 Tournament over the past three seasons, the thinking was that UCLA needed a win to jump into the field, as the collapse of Utah had left the Bruins without one win against an elite team. Some missed box outs and matador perimeter defense just when the victory was in sight cost the Bruins the signature win (and, judging by the way Oregon looked on Saturday, probably a second consecutive Pac-12 Tournament Title) they needed so badly, but the Bruins showed they belonged on the court with the Wildcats. The committee saw this close loss as confirmation of their “eye test” that UCLA belonged in the tournament. The Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, and SRS Ratings, both of which take margin into account and so are superior to the RPI, put the Bruins 41st and 43rd in the country, almost directly in line with their rating from the committee. Doug Gottlieb can be forgiven for going all out to milk his yearly 2 weeks of semi-fame, but the smart numbers have UCLA as a tournament team. Now how do those same numbers see SMU, champs of the “We Play Mediocre Football” Division of the Big East Schism?
While the Bruins are 41st, KenPom has SMU as #19 in the country, the highest rated 6 seed (though behind two 7 seeds, Wichita State and Michigan State).
Just as in football we track the “five factors” of efficiency, explosiveness, scoring, turnovers, and field position, in basketball we track the “four factors” of shooting, turnovers, offensive rebounding, getting to the foul line (for a pretty solid explanatory article on why these are the most important factors, go here. We track those factors by the following statistics:
- Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) to measure Shooting. eFG% is more robust than regular FG% because it weights for three pointers, which are worth more than twos.
- Turnover Percentage (TO%) to measure turnovers. TO% divides the amount of turnovers by the amount of possessions to give a better sense of how often the team is turning the ball over than just the raw amount of turnovers
- Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) to measure offensive rebounding. OR% divides the amount of offensive rebounds by the opportunities for rebounds.
- Free Throw Rate(FTA/FGA) to measure getting to the foul line. This divides free throws attempted by field goals attempted to figure out how often a team is getting to the line.
The Mustangs have the edge in every statistic but Turnover Percentage, though they did play a weaker schedule than UCLA (Pomeroy rates SMU’s schedule 92nd and UCLA’s schedule 26th). Most ratings that adjust for strength of schedule, however, still have SMU’s offense and defense rated higher. The biggest advantage that we can see is how well SMU gets to the line, a worry for a UCLA team that has struggled to prevent the type of penetration that brings free throws.
Let’s meet the Mustangs in person. They go eight deep, having lost a guard to academic ineligibility earlier in the year. Guard Nic Moore takes the most shots on the team, owning a little over 20% of SMU’s overall field goals attempted (both Norman Powell and Bryce Alford take a higher proportion of UCLA’s shots, at lower effective field goal percentages than Moore). Center Yanick Moreira takes the second most shots, though he is actually fourth on the team in proportion of shots taken at the rim behind forwards Markus Kennedy (Pictured above) and Ben Moore and Guard Ryan Manuel.
Moore and Swingman Sterling Brown are the main three point threats on the team. Nearly half of Moore’s shots come from distance, hitting at a 40.8% success rate, while over 36% of Brown’s shots are three pointers with a 46.5% success rate. Guard Ben Emelogu shoots a fair amount of threes, but his 27.1% shooting percentage from long range is worse than every Bruin regular but Noah Allen.
The Shooting Chart
To get a better sense of the team, we analyzed five games against solid competition: their AAC Tournament wins over Temple and UConn, a home loss to Cincinnati, and wins at Memphis and home against Tulsa. Here was the Mustangs’ effective field goal percentage map for those games (remember, on three pointers effective field goal percentage equals (Shots Made+(Shots Made/2))/Attempts:
We can already see that against good teams SMU relies on getting shots at the rim, where they had more attempts than all of the other parts of the court combined. It also looks like the Mustangs are more comfortable shooting from the right half of the court than the left.
In the home loss to Cincinnati, SMU only shot 41% at the rim, where they shot 47% against UConn, 50% against Tulsa, 53% against Temple, and 62% against Memphis. The objective seems clear; for UCLA to win, Tony Parker, Kevon Looney, and Thomas Welsh must be dominant forces on the defensive interior.
Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 12.21 while SMU has an SRS of 13.24, meaning that on a neutral court,Sports Reference predicts a 1 point SMU win.
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