Four Factors Differentials in 2015-16; Marquette in 2016-17

Four Factors Differentials in 2015-16; Marquette in 2016-17

This article serves two purposes: (1) it’s a reminder of what matters the most – effective field goal percentage; and, (2) it offers commentary on ways Marquette might improve compared to last season.

Let’s take a somewhat different-than-normal look at what matters to a team’s success.  Below you’ll find a graph for each of the four factors that illustrate, by team, the differential in each of the factors vs. their overall KenPom team ranking (adjusted efficiency margin) for the 2015-16 season.

Free Throw Rate
Below shows each team’s free throw rate (“FTR”) differential (offensive FTR minus defensive FTR) on the y-axis and their KenPom ranking on the x-axis. You’ll see Marquette indicated by a red diamond (a 12.5 FTR differential and a 97 team ranking).

If you’re looking for correlation, you’re not going to find it here. Certainly there are extremes – for example, UNC Wilmington at negative 19.6, but still with an 83 team ranking (Wilmington was positive in all of the other 3 factors, including a 3.8% eFG% differential), or Howard with an 11.9 differential, but 330 ranking (Howard had a horrible negative 5.6% eFG% differential).

MU enjoyed a nice advantage getting to the line last season. Their overall season 12.5 FTR differential was #11 in the nation, but the rate was a tighter 5.4 in Big East play (#3 in conerence). Gone is Henry Ellenson, who drew 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes and had a 43.9 FTR. One player to keep an eye on is Andrew Rowsey. He’s going against very different competition, but in his final year at UNC Asheville, the guard registered 5.1 fouls drawn per 40 minutes and a 36.6 FTR.

On defense, there isn’t a lot of room for improvement, although some younger players like Traci Carter (5.0 FC/40) should lower their foul rate in 2016-17. Overall, we’d expect the free throw rate differential to trend unfavorably for Marquette in 2016-17; however, it’s not a significant factor.


Turnover Rate
Again, we don’t see meaningful correlation. Some extremes include poor turnover differential teams with high rankings in the Big Ten’s Michigan State (negative 3.3% [defensive turnover rate minus offensive turnover rate], #5 ranking) and Purdue (negative 4.0%, #9); and teams with very good turnover advantages, but poor rankings such as Mount St. Mary’s (7.4%, #263) and Morgan State (4.1%, #304).

Marquette’s negative 0.9% differential needs improvement. They ranked #218 in the nation for the season and at  negative 2.0% in conference play, they ranked #8. On defense, Johnson, Wilson and Carter were all very good at creating steals and we believe the type of defenses that Marquette may employ during this coming season could result in turning the opposition over at a modestly higher rate than last year’s 19.1%.

On offense, a repeat of the turnover rates from then-freshmen Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham won’t be acceptable. Largely thanks to experience and to a lesser degree, player roles, Marquette should/must see a decline in their turnover rate.

To think that MU could move from #218 in the nation to something closer to #75 (around a +2.0% differential) isn’t a crazy thought. Such a favorable change year over year won’t save the team’s season, but we believe it’s an important piece on the path to a potential NCAA tournament bid.



There is a little more tightening here, but still not very strong correlation. Outliers includes Northern Iowa at negative 9.7% (team offensive rebounding percentage less opponent offensive rebounding percentage), yet ranked #67 (good in the other four factors, including a 4.3% eFG% edge) and  Quinnipiac with a 9.1% rebounding advantage, but a #291 ranking (negative in the other four factors, including a negative 3.7% eFG% differential.

Marquette, at negative 2.6%, was #240 in the nation for the season. In conference, MU was a negative 5.1%, better only than St. John’s. MU ranked #229 overall (#9 conference) in offensive rebounding and #225 in defensive rebounding (#6 overall). Henry Ellenson posted the second-best DR% in Big East conference games among his peers and he’ll be missed.

The hopes include (a) style of play results in more rebounding help; (b) Luke Fischer shows significant DR% improvement compared to past years; (c) Katin Reinhardt proves that he’s not truly allergic to rebounding; (d) someone else steps up as a consistent, solid rebounder (Cohen was a solid 15% in conference and perhaps Cheatham – 11% a year ago – can elevate with a partial change in role).

We anticipate a difficult year on the boards for Marquette, but the hope is some improvement. Minimal rebounding improvement will require significant turnover differential improvement and/or a hefty boost in eFG% differential.

Effective Field Goal Percentage

Now we’re into the realm of relevance. You need to travel down the rankings to #44 to find a team who had a negative eFG% differential (Providence, with a -1.3% eFG% differential, but who had a great advantage in turnover and FTR differential). The worst team who had an eFG% differential greater than 0.1% was ranked #231 of #351 teams. That is, no team who shot at least 0.1% eFG% better than their opponent was ranked in the bottom third of all college basketball teams.

The top 30 eFG% differential teams were ranked an average of #47, with only 4 sub-100 squads. If you’re a power-six team that has a 2.0% eFG% or better differential, it would be rare to find yourself with a sub-100 ranking. A year ago, Marquette (+3.3%) and Alabama (+3.0%) came close because of negative turnover and rebounding differentials, but they still made the top 100 cut.

On Offense…

The somewhat concerning fact about Marquette last year is that they shot the ball well. Their 52.0% eFG% was good for #72 in the nation and at 51.2% in conference play, only Villanova and Xavier were better. How much can they improve?

Freshman Haanif Cheatham posted an eFG% of 54.3%; Luke Fisher was at 60.8%; JaJuan Johnson 56.4%… is it reasonable to project significant improvement in 2016-17? Probably not.

However, Henry Ellenson took a lot of shots, but only hit at a 48.0% eFG% clip.

On 2-point shots MU was 52.4%, placing them in the top 50 in the nation. It was also a historically high percentage for the program. Nearly every regular was good, with the exception of Traci Carter (36.8%, but he was a true freshman) and the team stat was weighted down somewhat by Ellenson’s 49.5% and heavy volume. Certainly it’s not a slam dunk for MU to repeat their 2015-16 2FG%, but the hope would be to maintain.

3-point shooting is where things could change dramatically. First, as a percent of total field goal attempts, Marquette’s 3FGA’s should see one of the largest increases in all of college basketball. The Warriors were ranked #286 at 30.3% 3FGA/FGA a year ago. They shot 33.9%, which isn’t terrible, but imagine this team with a 38.3% 3FGA/FGA (~#100 in the nation) and a 36.3% 3FG% (again, ~#100 in the nation)… if they maintained their 52.4% 2FG%, the result would be an eFG% of 53.2%, a 1.2% improvement from a year ago.

Or…how about MU’s 3FGA/FGA and 3FG% both come in ~#50 in the nation? Now we’re talking an eFG% of 53.8%. This would still only place Marquette around the top 30 of eFG% teams. To aim for 53.8% would be a lofty goal, but it’s not wildly unreasonable with a (likely) dramatic change in shot selection, talented snipers and a little luck.

On Defense…

Marquette’s defensive eFG% was 48.7% (#107 nationally) for the year and 50.7% (#7) in conference. Both 2FG% and 3FG% against were mediocre. Obviously MU loses Henry Ellenson (4.4% blks) without adding much interior size, but the coaching staff is creative and smart.

It’s difficult to project a big drop in defensive eFG%, but let’s say MU can push it down by 1.3% while improving their eFG% by 1.2% (or some other combination of the two). A net improvement of 2.5% in eFG% differential means a +5.8% and places Marquette in or around the top 35 of eFG% differential, by far the most important of the four factors. Do that, and they are in business even without improvement in rebounding.


Bonus: Offensive Free Throw Percentage

Team free throw % is irrelevant to a team’s success, yet people cry about how bad their team is at making free throws when they hit anything less than 70%. Save yourself some time and worry about something meaningful, like eFG%.
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