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Just The Sports: 2006-09-17

Just The Sports

Friday, September 22, 2006

FIBA Women's World Championship Game Notes

I have been remiss for not giving the Women's World Championship the same sort of coverage I gave the men's, but with the semi-finals over and the final game scheduled for Saturday, here are a couple game notes to fulfill my quota for discussing women's sports.

That the US women had their fifty-game World and Olympic winning streak broken does come as a shock, but the team that finally managed to beat them should not come as a complete surprise before Russia had played the US competitively when they played in the preliminary rounds, only losing by ten points. In fact, Russia was the only one of the US's opponents to have an offensive efficiency over 98 points per 100 possessions and they did it twice. Only the second time the US was not able to better Russia's offensive efficiency because of worse shooting from the field and the free throw line.

Even though the US did lose, they still had the best overall defensive team among the semi-final teams, which ironically let them down when it counted second-most. Russia, as a team, has been a little better than their opponents, scoring 99.1 points per 100 possessions while allowing 94.9 points per 100 possessions, but good enough to make it to the finals to face off against Australia.

The Australians have the privilege of being the most efficient offensive semi-final team by far with an offensive rating of 109.9. They are also the best shooting team with a true shooting percentage of 59.1%. And if that was not enough, they have been the second-best defensive semi-final team behind the US. Since Australia has won their games pretty easily and has a +19.0 efficiency margin, there should be no problem with the Aussies dispatching Russia and taking gold medal in this tournament.

It is worth noting that no semi-final team has averaged more assists than turnovers, although Australia comes the closest with 14.9 assists per game to 15.7 turnovers even though Brazil has had fewer turnovers per possession.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Waste of Money

The coach [Mike Nolan] also said that the 49ers' salary-cap health made the move possible. The 49ers were believed to be about $10 million below the NFL's $102-million salary cap before finalizing the Spencer deal.

"We've gotten our cap situation in a light right now where we can help our football team out," Nolan said. "We haven't been in that situation much. But we're there now. ... I think this is an example of very good management."

Professional sports franchises that have been forced into frugal behavior and have made deals not with the mindset of finding good, undervalued players or valuing the players they do have properly but in the hopes these deals will cause the end of their frugality usually make unwise decisions once they find themselves able to spend more money on players. An example of this is the contract extension given to Shawntae Spencer by the San Francisco 49ers, a player who unless he has improved dramtically over last season is not worthy of being a starting cornerback for an NFL team let alone paid like a starting cornerback.

Football Outsiders charted defensive stats for all of the NFL players and put the data in their book, Pro Football Prospectus 2006 and Shawntae Spencer did not exactly measure up well to his cornerback peers. He was among the worst in pass stop percentage and allowed an average of 8.8 yards in pass plays where he was the intended target. Spencer is also uninvolved in stopping running plays.

This season Spencer does not look as if he has improved enough to warrant such confidence from the coaching staff. Since I have not watched either of the two 49ers games so far, I do not know exactly how he is played, but going by available game data, it has not been particularly awe-inspiring. He has made ten tackles an average of 11.2 yards past the line of scrimmage and only one of those tackles stopped the opponent from having a successful play so when receivers have caught the ball against Spencer, they are almost guaranteed a first down.

So no, signing him is not an example of very good management.

When Good Coordinators Leave Pt. II

Since I already established a link between Mark Richt's departure and a very noticeable decline in Florida State's offensive output in my previous post, I was curious to see if his arrival in Athens, Georgia provided a boost to Georgia's offense in comparison to what the Jim Donnan-led Georgia offenses from 1996-2000 were able to accomplish.

What I found was that there was no statisically significant differnce between the two coaching tenures so Richt has not improved offensively over Donnan nor have his Georgia teams matched his Florida State teams in terms of passing yards and completion percentages. If there were any difference between the Donnan-led offenses and Richt-led offenses, it is that Richt has been the head of more consistent offensive play, having lower standard deviations in all the categories I looked at besides average yards per catch and average points per game.

When looking solely at conference opponents, the results were the same, with average points per game being the only statistic where offenses under Jim Donnan had a lower standard deviation.

Yet, despite having similar offenses, Mark Richt has won an average of 10.2 games a season to Jim Donnan's 8 wins a season and the Richt advantage has a lot to do with his defenses giving up fewer points. Although Richt has coached 6 more games than Donnan did at Georgia, his teams have given up 142 fewer points so it turns out the head coach with the expertise in offense has improved Georgia's defense the most.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

When Good Coordinators Leave

There are both advantages and disadvantages to being a successful college head coach. On the one hand, you will be paid a handsome sum, have airtight job security, and be able to achieve god-like status in your university city and among your more fervent alumni. On the other hand, you will have to deal with other universities hiring away your top assistant coaches as they seek the recreate the winning atmosphere for themselves. Then it will be up to you as a head coach to replace these assistant with other assistants who are just as good or risk a decline like the two universities, Florida State and Oklahoma, are experiencing now after two of their top coaches landed head coaching gigs elsewhere.

The first coordinator I want to discuss is Mark Richt, who was the quarterbacks coach at Florida State from 1990-2000 and the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 1994-2000. He left Florida State after 2000 to become the head coach at the University of Georgia where he is still the head coach. Since I only had box scores extending back to 1995, I split up the data from 1995-2000 to 2001-2005 and the differences between Florida State's offense under Mark Richt and Florida State's offense now is astounding.

With 95% confidence, I can see that there is a statistically significant difference (i.e, the numbers went down) in the following numbers: pass completions, pass attempts, passing yards, points, yards per pass attempt, and completion percentages. Under Richt, quarterbacks completed 58.1% of their passes with 8.4 yards per pass attempt and completed only 55.3% with 7.4 yards per pass attempt. Not surprisingly, there is no statistically significant difference between the rushing yards and yards per carry since Richt's expertise is in coaching up quarterbacks.

Even though there may be other confounding variables, I believe if Richt had stayed at Florida State, they would have recruited better quarterbacks (remember, D.J. Shockley following Richt to Georgia) and the quarterbacks that did play for Florida State would have played a lot better (see, Chris Rix.)

Mike Stoops, brother of Bob Stoops, is the other coordinator worth mentioning. He was an associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and secondary coach at Oklahoma from 1999-2003 before being hired as a head coach by the University of Arizona. The time frame makes it harder for differences to be statistically significant, but the differences that were statistically significant had to do with the secondary's performance. Completion percentage (49.0% to 53.7%) and passing yards allowed (175.3 per game to 210.0 per game) are two major differences between Oklahoma's defense with Mike Stoops and the defense since and both have to do with secondary play.

Again, I am not trying to say the absence of Mike Stoops is the only reason for the decline, but it is an interesting correlation to look at.

These two examples should show that the best road to success a head coach can take is to surround himself with as many bright assistant coaches as he can and hope that all of those coaches lack any ambition at all. Barring that, he should always be on the lookout for the next great assistant coach to replace the one that is sure to leave eventually.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Chris Leak

During the Florida-Tennessee game, one of the CBS announcers said something to the effect that Chris Leak plays better as the game goes along and has his best performances in the fourth quarters. Maybe the announcer was limiting his comment only to Saturday night SEC games against Tennesse, but after I went back through the play-by-play data of Leak's career as a full-time starter, it became evident that Leak does not necessarily get progressively better from the first quarter to the fourth quarter, but there is one quarter where he does most of his damage to the opponents' defense scoring-wise and that quarter is the second one.

Chris Leak split time with Ingle Martin for the first half of his freshman season and so I did not do any charting for that season as he did not have enough time to exhibit any tendencies. Instead, I focused on his 2004 and 2005 seasons. In 2004, the second quarter was by far the most productive quarter out of all of them. He threw the most passes in this quarter, had the highest completion percentage, the highest success rate for his passes, and the highest yards per attempt. Leak also threw ten of his touchdown passes in this quarter along with six of his interceptions.

Leak's junior year was his first season under Urban Meyer and he had a higher overall completion percentage, but he did lose almost a yard off of his average passing attempt. One thing remained the same, though, as the second quarter was again the quarter where Leak threw the most touchdown passes. The second quarter was not as dominant for Leak in other categories, though. He had his second highest completion percentage and his second highest success rate in this quarter, but only the third most yards per passing attempt. Still, given the fact the large majority of his pass attempts came in this quarter, to maintain such high rates is impressive.

Whether this is simply a Chris Leak trend or an overall quarterback trend, I do not know although I guess an overall quarterback trend, but the second quarter will no doubt be the one in which Leak is most active, closely followed by the third quarter.