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Surprising to read some coaches ignore tempo-free stats


Mike Miller

When a story about college hoops coaches using tempo-free stats on hits the N.Y. Times, that seems like a pretty good indicator those stats have gone mainstream. Only thing left is Andy Rooney bellyaching about their influence on the game. Thankfully, that won’t happen.

No wonder. Seems tempo-free stats have yet to fully penetrate the coaching ranks.

This post by Michael Litos last week on CAA Hoops showed how few coaches in the Colonial Athletic Conference focus on tempo-free stats, including VCU’s Shaka Smart, the league’s newest coaching star. His Rams made an improbable Final Four run last March, but unlike his mid-major opponent in that game, Brad Stevens, Smart isn’t a tempo-free nut. He merely uses them as a tool.

”We look at them from time to time, but it’s like Mark Twain said, ‘there’s lies, damn lies, and statistics,’ Smart told Litos. ”Sometimes I think we can get so lost in stats that we lose sight of what actually happens on the floor. You know what stat I like? Winning.”

And Smart’s one of the few who even acknowledge the stat’s usefulness. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint takes a more basic approach.

“I care about rebounds, turnovers, free throw percentage,” Flint said. “Assist to turnover percentage (too) but even that’s hard. We’re not a good shooting team so we don’t get a lot of assists. All that other stuff is a little too much. My favorite is that what a kid does over 40 minutes. Well he doesn’t play 40 minutes for a reason!”

More coaches echoed Flint’s remarks, which surprised me a bit. Ex-George Mason assistant Chris Caputo, who followed coach Jim Larranaga to Miami this summer, told the Times that he wasn’t a “match geek,” but admitted the stats gave him a snapshot of an opponent’s strength and weaknesses and all the relevant stats. The Pats coaching staff and players still watched tape – nobody only looks at the stats – but given their performance last season, one might think other CAA teams would investigate.

That Dean Smith invented tempo-free stats and not some geek also might be enough.

Then again, some such as William and Mary coach Tony Shaver, are smart enough to have assistants who use ‘em. From Litos:

“We do but I don’t,” says Shaver when asked if he uses them. “I’m not a great stat man. But (assistant coach) Ben Wilkins is terrific at presenting stats that are helpful. He’s very good at finding some that are irrelevant and some that are meaningful.”

Northeastern’s Bill Coen comes closest to admitting they utilize tempo free.

“We look at it,” he says. “It’s not for the players but for us coaches. If we know someone on the team produces 1.6 points per shot, it only makes sense to get him the ball in our sets.”

Will tempo-free stats automatically make your team better? No. But in a sport where information is almost as important as having more talented players, anyone who’s not using ‘em is falling behind.

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