VCU HOOPS OPENER OFFERS A TOUCH OF MYSTERY THEATER

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VCU Coach Shaka Smart says Illinois State has been more challenging to scout because of roster turnover.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart says Illinois State has been more challenging to scout because of roster turnover.

RICHMOND, Va. – The first game of every season presents a little bit of the unknown, but this VCU opener may offer a little more mystery than usual.

The Rams tip off their anticipated 2013-14 season on Friday (7 p.m.) against Illinois State at the Verizon Wireless Arena. While the Redbirds were an 18-15 team a year ago, that information is essentially, uh, for the birds. This year’s Illinois State team features 10 newcomers. The Redbirds return a grand total of eight percent of their scoring from last year. ISU’s leading returning scorer is sophomore guard Nick Zeisloft, who averaged 4.5 points per game last year.

So, this is essentially a brand new team for second-year Redbirds Coach Dan Muller. While that presents a unique set of challenges for Muller, it will also give VCU Coach Shaka Smart a few headaches.

“One of the biggest challenges is that we don’t know a whole lot about them because they’ve got so many new players from a personnel standpoint,” Smart admitted Monday at his weekly press conference.

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‘I FEEL THE NEED, THE NEED FOR SPEED’

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I’m sure that as long as they’ve been playing basketball, people have been debating on the “correct” way to play the game or asserting which style is best. Somebody surely told James Naismith that his gym class wasn’t getting enough peach buckets. VCU certainly isn’t immune to that chatter, with its unique “Havoc” system. While everybody has a good time when things are good, and under Shaka Smart, things have certainly been that, there’s always somebody in the stands that cringes when Troy Daniels pulls up for a three in transition or when a Ram fires a jumper early in the shot clock. Smart’s system allows players a level of freedom that is rare in college hoops these days. That can be frustrating to some. Maybe this post will help.

C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report (seriously, a great post from Bleacher Report), wrote a great piece today that piggybacked off Ken Pomeroy’s recent assessment of offensive efficiency and how it relates to the length of a team’s possessions. The data was compelling, and for the most part, suggested that teams were more efficient when playing faster and getting shots earlier in the shot clock. And VCU was one of the best examples. I pulled the table below from Moore’s story that shows the teams with the biggest differences in offensive efficiency in relation to the time on the shot clock. Please note: live ball turnovers – which often lead to easy buckets early in the shot clock – have been removed from this data.

Rebound, 0-10 sec. eFG% Rebound, 11-35 sec. eFG% Opp. score, 0-10 sec. eFG% Opp. score, 11-35 sec. eFG% Dead-ball turnover, 0-10 eFG% Dead-ball turnover, 11-35 eFG%
 Indiana 63 50 59 47 57 55
Miami 54 43 69 53 64 42
VCU 56 49 51 46 61 45
Marquette 59 45 61 44 54 45
Kansas 63 46 58 49 53 47

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Interesting stuff. Off a rebound, VCU’s effective field goal percentage is 56 percent in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, but sags to 49 percent after. Off a dead-ball turnover in the first 10 seconds, the Rams come in at an impressive 61 percent effective field goal percentage. In each of these three situations, the Rams are much less efficient after 10 seconds have elapsed on the shot clock. Of course, this data isn’t perfect. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but the data here is an interesting conversation piece. Are the Rams better off playing fast? It sure looks that way from here.

P.S.: If you’re a math guy, you’ll probably enjoy hoop-math.com, which provided this data. Good stuff.

RAMS SET FOR FIRST SEASON IN DEEP ATLANTIC 10

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AllinA10-InsideRICHMOND, Va. – It was 17 years ago, on Jan. 4, 1996 in Williamsburg, that VCU defeated William & Mary 70-47 in the Rams’ first Colonial Athletic Association contest in front of 2,868 brave souls. In the years since, the tales of that night have been retold countless times fawned over by…nobody. Six days later, when the Rams hosted George Mason in the school’s first CAA home game, 2,911 enthusiastically “packed” the Richmond Coliseum.

It’s different this time around for VCU.

On Jan. 9, VCU will host Dayton in the first Atlantic 10 Conference game in school history. It’s a game against one of the league’s better teams, but in reality, it’s more than just one game. It’s an event. It signifies a new direction for the VCU Basketball program. When was the last time a conference-opener meant so much to so many VCU people? Maybe the Rams’ first Sun Belt game in 1979, but I doubt it.

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NUMBERS SAY RAMS ARE BETTER, OFFENSE IS UNOFFENSIVE

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VCU (11-3) has won eight straight games and is knocking on the door of the top 25.

VCU (11-3) has won eight straight games and is knocking on the door of the top 25.

Mark Twain is credited with popularizing the quote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” With all due respect to the late Samuel Clemens, he never had the benefit of effective field goal percentage at his disposal.

Bill James has been preaching the gospel of statistical analysis of sports for more than 30 years, but it took Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ 2003 account of the Oakland Athletics’ and General Manager Billy Beane’s use of advanced statistics, to bring that conversation to the forefront.

The book divided baseball observers into two camps: The “old school” that relied heavily on feel, instincts and traditional measurables like batting average – they hated it – and those that embraced the fresh perspective and viewed the system as the natural evolution of statistical evaluation.

Despite its detractors, advanced metrics have begun to creep their way into other sports, like basketball. ESPN.com now lists PER, short for player efficiency rating, on its NBA player pages.

There’s no need to be afraid. Statistics aren’t here to overwhelm you, they’re here to help us understand the game better. Holding Florida to 50 points and holding Old Dominion to 50 points can be two completely different things because at least one of those teams is going to play deliberately, walk the ball up the floor and run 25-second sets.

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