The other day, I think Doug Lesmerises of the Plain Dealer raised an interesting point.
Writing about the Ohio State men’s basketball team going into the Big Dance, Lesmerises posted that he thinks this Buckeye team could reach the Final Four even though he believes it is only Thad Matta’s fifth-best team.
Doug then goes on to look at the relative strength of each of those teams, detailing each squad’s roster and the stars on each team. If you want to check those out, feel free to click on over, as there’s no sense for me to rehash Doug’s reasoning.
But my immediate thought upon reading Doug’s stories was to want to look at some numbers. Sure, we can bicker and argue about sports all day – that’s what makes it fun, outside of ESPN’s “First Take” – but with the proliferation of advanced stats these days, I found myself wanting to know what those metrics had to say.
Thankfully, Ken Pomeroy’s website – the eponymous kenpom.com – can shed a little light on that thanks to his tempo-free advanced stats. The guts of Pomeroy’s site are behind a paywall (trust me, if you’re a hoops nerd and haven’t been there, you’ll want to put down the $19.95) but he does have his national rankings and a few stats available for free for each of the past few seasons.
The rankings aren’t really all that subjective, as you can read Pomeroy’s methodology here, but it’s pretty simple. He figures out each team’s
efficiency scoring and preventing points per 100 possessions, adds in a few tweaks and voila, you can compare every team in the country and come up with a ranking all the way down to the 347th and last team (that would be 0-28 Grambling this year, by the way).
It’s not a perfect system for this type of exercise because it only rates each year’s team against that specific year’s field. At the same time, I think there’s something to be said for being ranked above any and all comers in a specific year, and the efficiency numbers do paint a pretty good picture of just how good a team plays.
Either way, it’s a good way to look at things through a different, numerical perspective. (Also, the numbers are a little skewed because the past year totals include the NCAA tournament results while this year’s obviously do not, but I think the point will largely remain the same).
The following is a chart showing Pomeroy’s overall rank for the Buckeyes each season along with his adjusted offensive and defensive ranks for Matta’s teams from 2006 – his first team to make the NCAA Tournament – until now.
| ||2013||2012 (Final Four)||2011 (Sweet 16)||2010 (Sweet 16)||2009 (RD1 loss)||2008 (NIT)||2007 (Title Game)||2006 (RD2 Loss)|
|Team Overall Rank||5||2||1||5||37||29||4||18|
Created with the HTML Table Generator
Next, I decided to look at each team’s offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency in Pomeroy’s marks, doing so for each of his five truly elite teams (2007, 2010-13).
| ||2013||2012 (Final Four)||2011 (Sweet 16)||2010 (Sweet 16)||2007 (Title Game)
What do the numbers show? Well, this team certainly compares favorably to some of the best Matta has had. This year’s Buckeyes are ranked fifth overall going into the Big Dance, with top-15 units in both offense and defense. That’s not a bad team at all, and the Buckeyes are certainly good enough to make the Final Four for the second year in a row.
On the other hand, the team’s offensive efficiency mark of 114.6 points per 100 possessions is the lowest of Matta’s elite teams, though its defensive efficiency of 86.5 stacks up well. The gap of 28.1 slots below each of the above four squads though. So I think it’s pretty fair to say this squad might be only the fifth-best of the Matta teams, though I don't think it's a slam dunk.
What stands out to me, though, is just how good that 2011 team was when compared to the rest of the country. Pomeroy still had OSU ranked first at the end of the year despite its Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky, and the Buckeyes had the No. 1 offense and fifth-ranked defense that year. Its margin of 37.2 points between offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency per 100 possessions is the best of any Matta OSU squad.
That team is polling second in the vote posted on Lesmerises’ story, but to me, that’s probably the best OSU team I’ve seen under Matta. That squad ripped through its schedule with just two regular-season losses, won the Big Ten tournament in dominating fashion and had a bevy of depth. Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale got it done inside, Jon Diebler was the best three-point specialist in the nation and a solid glue guy along with David Lighty, Aaron Craft did Aaron Craft things as a freshman and – oh yeah – William Buford wasn’t so bad either. The 2011 squad got a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament, sure, but it also had an off night with its shot, just enough to lose a squeaker to the Wildcats. Had the Buckeyes gotten past UK, I think they would have won the title.
Now, many people – including the Cleveland.com voters – have the 2007 team of Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, Othello Hunter and Ivan Harris as the best of the Matta era, but the Pomeroy rankings had that squad fourth in the nation, fourth in offense and 15th in defense. Of course, you can also argue the team wasn’t itself until midway through the season when Oden got healthy and integrated into the lineup. Also, the margin between its efficiencies was 35.8, second-best in this study, which shows the level of top-end talent those Buckeyes had. It would have been really fun to see this unit, fully healthy, take on the 2011 squad.
Meanwhile, last year’s Final Four team finished second in the Pomeroy rankings with a top-10 offense and defense, and I believe the Buckeyes were the only team in the nation that could have knocked off Kentucky in the national title game if they played their best game. This 2012 squad is probably the only other Matta outfit truly up there with the ’11 and ’07 teams, both via the eye test and the numbers, at the moment.
Again, the numbers don’t prove anything because they don’t provide a direct comparison between each team, but I think knowing where a team fit in against its peers in a given year is a useful point of debate.
No matter how you slice it, though, Thad Matta sure has had some great teams at Ohio State. Considering the state of the program when he arrived, to have had five teams ranked in the top five of any metric in his first nine years is simply amazing.
In fact, Ohio State is the only school in the country in the top five of Pomeroy’s rankings each of the past four seasons; Kansas has three appearances while Kentucky and Duke each have two.
No offense to the great 1960s squads of Fred Taylor, but this is the golden era of Ohio State basketball. Enjoy it while it lasts.