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Just The Sports: 2008-05-18

Just The Sports

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Oklahoma's Bowl Woes

The recipe for being an elite college football team is a simple one, which belies the fact that it is a difficult task to execute. First, a team wishing for the distinction of being called elite is helped immensely by having a tradition of winning or at least a reputation for getting a lot of national television coverage so that the cream of the crop of recruits is likely to attend there. Then the college will need to mix in actually developing their recruits in order to avoid a downward trend in play that can come about by the attrition of players who graduate or leave early. After that, the college must add a dash of demolishing those cupcake teams that fill up their win column without giving any nutritional value to their record and also dominate their conference opponents. Lastly, the wannabe elite college football squad must win their bowl games against the country's best other teams.

Unfortunately for Oklahoma and Bob Stoops in their quest to be taken seriously for both the regular and post-seasons and not become the butt of jokes, the school has failed in this last step of the recipe. Despite the fact that college football gives teams what seems like years to prepare for their bowl game, an advantage that one would think with Oklahoma's regular-season success and Big 12 supremacy would lead victories. Instead, Oklahoma has managed only four wins in nine bowl games.

What makes the losses troubling for a program headed up by the second-highest paid head football coach in the nation is how much of a precipitous drop the Oklahoma offense takes against its bowl opponents' defenses. For anyone who has ever done confidence testing, the fact that Oklahoma's offense has been statistically significantly inferior in bowl games versus other games when there have only been nine Oklahoma bowl games against one hundred ten other games demonstrates just how inept Oklahoma has been offensively in bowl games compared to how consistently great the Sooners are on other occasions.

In their nine bowl games, Oklahoma quarterbacks and wide receivers have combined for a 62.4% completion percentage on 6.4 yards per pass attempt while in the other one hundred ten contests, the passing battery is responsible for 61.9% completion percentage on 7.5 yards per pass attempt. Although there is a slight increase in the completion percentage, it is no match for the decline in yards per pass attempt, which correlates most highly with points scored. Alone, the inability to string together a passing attack would be enough to undo any team, but the Sooners add to that struggle an anemic running game, too. Carriers of the pigskin for the Sooners only get 3.0 yards per attempt in bowl games; compare that to 4.3 yards per carry in the other games and you will recognize why Oklahoma will never be able to be an elite team.

Stoops, as the head coach, will get the blame for Oklahoma's struggles and unless he does something to change his teams' fortunes in bowl games, there will come a day when it will not be enough for Sooner fans to win the Big 12 title. Sooner or later they will want Oklahoma football to be truly elite instead of just dominant in one area and that will all start with being able to perform better in bowl games.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Celtics' Big Three

Originally this post was designed to advocate that Kevin Garnett is hurting the Boston Celtics with his unselfish play and that against certain teams, it is up for him to take over the game, take upwards of twenty shots, and dominate the competition the way his physical attributes indicate that he could. On the other hand, simply because it looks to the naked eye that a player should be performing in certain ways does not necessarily mean it would help the team. Of the Celtics' Big Three, Kevin Garnett is the most offensively efficient player as well the most consistent shooter, but he is neither the most important nor is he the player the Celtics should be depending on when it comes down to picking one of the three players to take over a game.

By running correlations between various shooting statistics, I took steps towards determining the Big Three's true places in the Celtics offense. Of the three Celtics players, Kevin Garnett has the lowest correlation coefficient in terms of the number of field goal and free throw attempts he takes to the team's offensive efficiency (-.210); the more attempts he took in the regular season, the less likely it was the team would benefit from such offensive usage. It is as if Garnett will take more shots, but he will only wait until every last possible recourse has been exhausted and by then there is no benefit to the Celtics. Paul Pierce was the only one of the three players who did not have a negative correlation coefficient in this category (.060) even if it is a non-existent linkage, meaning Pierce does not hurt the team when he takes more shots.

Paul Pierce is also the least affected (-.047) when it comes to how his true shooting percentage fluctuates as a result of his attempting more field goals and free throws. No matter if he took 12 field goal and free throw attempts or he took 25, it would have little to do with his final shooting percentages. Not so for Ray Allen, who has the lowest correlation coefficient (-.170) of the Big Three. Therefore, Allen would most likely benefit from cutting off a few attempts from his game. Kevin Garnett comes in second with a correlation coefficient of (-.113).

Most importantly is determining whose true shooting percentage has the highest positive correlation coefficient with the team's offensive efficiency for that player is the most valuable offensive player of the three. There again, Paul Pierce comes out of the Big Three smelling the rosiest. As his .470 correlation coefficient shows, as Pierce goes so go the Celtics. When he is having a great shooting night, as he did in game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Celtics assured of having a great shooting night. The same goes for Ray Allen, albeit to a lesser extent (.439). His true shooting percentage is the second most valuable barometer of the Celtics' offensive success. Kevin Garnett, though, by virtue of being a more consistent shooter than the other two perimeter-orientated players does not have as much influence on the Celtics offensive efficiency. His steadiness means the game will rarely if ever depend on how he shoots the ball.

When it comes to needing a player to take over a game, the Celtics will do best to put their faith in Paul Pierce. Not only is he more willing to take a large number of shots when the need arises, but his greater number of shots will, if not help the team a great deal, at least not adversely affect the team's of his offensive statistics. Garnett is the team's most important defensive player, but Pierce is the Celtics' most important offensive player.