Fun with numbers before Northwestern vs. Michigan State

Jeremy Nash in profile

Jeremy Nash is quite good at stealing the ball away from opponents.

Northwestern plays at Michigan State on Saturday, but chances are you already know. It's a huge game, especially since the Spartans will be out for revenge after last year's game at the Breslin Center. Of course Kevin Coble isn't around to hit clutch shot after clutch shot, so things might turn out a little differently. If you're looking for a more in-depth preview you should check out Carmody Court (and while you're doing that check out this Q&A about Northwestern's tournament hopes from Welsh-Ryan Ramblings).

I want to look at things a little differently. A few times each week the NCAA releases cumulative statistics. Now, these stats are modified for pace, time of possession or quite honestly anything at all. The league just takes the raw box scores adds them to a database and then spits out statistics. But pretend for a moment that you didn't know Pomeroy or Basketball State existed, maybe these statistics could be revealing? Or maybe not. But they're still fun to look at.

Below I've highlighted each of the statistics in which Northwestern is in the Top 65 teams or 250 players (not 5 x 65, blame the NCAA) in the country. (Sensing a theme here?)
First off, it's interesting how few categories Northwestern is in the Top 65 in as a team. Blame the Princeton Offense. It slows things down considerably and makes the Wildcats' scoring offense look terrible and their scoring defense look great. As someone who has witnessed this phenomenon my entire life I still find it fascinating that being ranked #1 in scoring defense actually means something.

Now, the fact that Northwestern plays so slow and still ranks 71st in scoring defense is a bit of a concern. Statistics in which the Wildcats rank 65th or better as a team?

  • Won-Loss Percentage - 65th (#1 is Syracuse)
  • Three-point field goals per game - 7th (#1 is VMI)
  • Three-point field goal defense - 29th (#1 is St. Louis)
  • Assists per game - 15th (#1 is Sam Houston St.)
  • Assist to Turnover Ratio - 5th (#1 is Notre Dame)
  • Turnovers per game - 15th (#1 is Wisconsin)
  • Turnover Margin - 62nd (#1 is Houston)

Just by looking at those numbers it's pretty obvious that these statistics alone don't capture greatness. The only likely NCAA Tournament teams on that list are Syracuse and Wisconsin (though Notre Dame is making a late push). What's most fascinating to me in these numbers though is the three-point field goals made. VMI and Northwestern play completely different styles of basketball and yet both are near the top in the nation in this category. Why don't more teams shoot more threes?

And now on an individual level, which Northwestern players rank in the Top 325? Well, the NCAA only does 250, but we'll take that:

  • John Shurna ranks in the Top 250 in: Points per game (90th), field goal percentage (173rd), free throw percentage (176th) and rebounds per game (206th).
  • Michael Thompson ranks in the Top 250 in: Three-point field goals per game (94th), free throw percentage (216th), assists per game (106th) and assist-turnover ratio (17th).
  • Jeremy Nash ranks in the Top 250 in: Steals per game (137th) and free throw percentage (148th).
  • Luka Mirkovic ranks in the Top 250 in: Rebounds per game (236th). 

Alright, raise your hand. Who thought they'd see the last bullet point this season? No one? That's what I thought. These statistics pretty much tell us what we already know. These three players are keys to Northwestern's success. It is interesting that Drew Crawford doesn't appear on any of the lists. My guess is he probably just misses a few, but I'd have to go back and check. Thompson's assist to turnover ratio of 2.77 is great no matter what offense you play in. Considering how much he's asked to score this season it's very impressive.

We'll see what happens on Saturday, but maybe it'll be Shurna's clutch shots pulling the Wildcats to an unlikely victory.


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  • Just discovered your blog! Great job, I love it!

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