Three teams have outperformed early season expectations thus far this season. Northwestern, Loyola and DePaul each have winning records and victories against solid competition that were unexpected when the season began. Using individual offensive efficiency and usage here's a look at what those teams are doing right on the offensive side of the ball.
As a reminder, these statistics are compiled using a very small data set. (Ken Pomeroy refuses to release individual player data until December 15.) There will be some fluctuations in this data as the season goes on, but through five or six games the numbers are already beginning to show a story.
With John Shurna and Michael Thompson the numbers tell you what you'd expect, but there are some interesting trends after the jump.
Northwestern Trend #1: Michael Thompson just keeps getting better. With Craig Moore and Kevin Coble no longer around Thompson has been the key to Northwestern's season thus far on offense. He's increased his usage rate by 4.2%, meaning he's taking on a larger role in the offense. Usually when a player does this his offensive efficiency suffers, but Thompson's has climbed to 118.7 from 107.9 a season ago. He's turned into an efficient go-to player.
Northwestern Trend #2: John Shurna is okay being a go-to guy. Shurna was very good as a freshman last season. He scored over a point per possession and in general was a positive factor for the Wildcats on offense. He also used a ton of possessions for a freshman, which was good because he was essentially Northwestern's third or fourth option on many nights. Thus far Shurna has been the player that's stepped up the most with Coble out. Shurna's usage rate has risen to 29.8% from 23.8% a season ago. That's a huge jump. Even with the early season struggles it hasn't affected Shurna's overall profile. He's still about as efficient as he was last season.
Northwestern Trend #3: Kyle Rowley is becoming a decent offensive player. Last season it was Luka Mirkovic that was pretty efficient on offense, while Rowley lagged behind. This season they've swapped roles. Mirkovic has looked tentative and Rowley has played well at times. Right now Rowley seems to be the better option. As a freshman he used too many possessions very inefficiently when he was on the court. This season he's using fewer possessions and doing so more efficiently. He profiles as a nice complementary player at the moment.
Loyola Trend #1: Walt Gibler, where did you come from? Gibler's numbers this season are unlike anything he's ever put together. He's demanding the ball on offense - his usage rate has risen 12.4% from last season - and he's doing good things with it - his efficiency has risen from a very good 113.7 to an astronomical 123.8. Maybe Gibler's just more comfortable as a sophomore, or maybe he's getting better looks as part of the second unit. Whatever it is he needs to keep doing it. Gibler is a legitimate go-to guy off the bench.
Loyola Trend #2: The gunners and the complements. Loyola has two types of player on its roster. One I like to call gunners. They use a lot of possessions - typically greater than 25% - when they're on the court. The other, complements, don't use very many possessions - typically less than 14% - but do so very efficiently. Two great examples of complements are Andy Polka and Aric Van Weelden. Both play at a very high efficiency level and do things that help their teammates get open shots. Polka uses just 13.3% of the possessions when he's on the court, but he does so at an extremely high efficiency rate. Van Weelden uses even fewer possessions - 11.6% - but he can make an impact when necessary.
Loyola Trend #3: The invisible John Benkoske. One player that has been phased out of the Loyola attack, both in minutes and possessions is Benkoske. It's not that he's playing particularly poorly, the rotation has just moved in a different direction. Yet even when Benkoske gets on the court he's not using possessions. He's basically invisible on the court. He probably needs to be more assertive when he is in the game.
DePaul Trend #1: Will Walker could use some help. Walker's offensive efficiency has slumped a tiny bit this season as he's taken on a much larger role in the offense. His usage has risen to 29.2% from 21.4% a season ago. It is typical for a player to lose some of their efficiency as possessions go up, so his drop to 102.0 from 104.8 is nothing to be concerned about. Still, DePaul could use another efficient scorer to complement Walker and the guy mentioned in Trend #2.
DePaul Trend #2: Mac Koshwal has been an absolute beast - when healthy. DePaul needs Koshwal to be healthy and ready to go as soon as possible, because the junior center is doing everything in his power to be a dominant post player. Koshwal's efficiency is incredible in the early season. Once again though DePaul is having problems getting him the ball. He has a usage rate of just 12.1%. This seems extremely low. It should rise to something around 20% - where it was last season - as 2009-10 goes on.
DePaul Trend #3: Eric Wallace meet Dar Tucker. Wallace doesn't want to be Tucker, but he sure is trying his hardest to do a darn good impression on the court. At the moment Wallace is a less efficient, slightly less ball-dominating forward. Last season Tucker used 32.6% of DePaul's possessions while he was on the court and had an efficiency rating of 95.0. This season Wallace is using 27.5% of the possessions with an efficiency rating of 80.4. That's not good. The DePaul offense is inefficient in general and having a player like Wallace gobble up so many trips isn't helping. Wallace is great on defense and rebounding, but he could really use to tone things down on offense.
I'll certainly be checking out every team's statistics as the season continues. It will be interesting to watch the data change.