Every possession tells the story of undefeated Wichita State’s season to this point. So does every point, every rebound and every assist.
There is no detail too small when it comes to breaking down what makes the Shockers tick in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rating system at KenPom.com.
“What the offensive rating does is it basically just tells you how efficient a player is when he’s doing something that shows up in the box score,” Pomeroy said. “It doesn’t capture everything that happens on a basketball court, but shots, assists, offensive rebounds and more come into play and they’re all treated pretty fairly.”
Pomeroy’s system dissects every player in Division I college basketball’s offensive performance — down to what might seem like minutiae — by using a formula developed by statistician Dean Oliver, author of “Basketball on Paper.”
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The formula generates two easily distinguishable numbers — offensive rating and possession percentage. And like anything else it has done this season, WSU (26-0, 13-0 MVC), which plays at Evansville (11-15, 4-9) on Sunday, is in elite company.
A player’s offensive rating translates to points generated per 100 possessions a player is on the floor. Sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet leads the Shockers at 125.3, followed by guard Ron Baker (121.1) and forward Cleanthony Early (115.2).
Possession percentage indicates possessions defined by a particular player’s actions that ended a possession. Early leads the way with 27 percent, followed by VanVleet and Baker at 21.1 percent each.
“The average fan, the average analyst doesn’t know how to classify turnovers, but VanVleet turns the ball over on 14 percent of his possessions, which is low for a regular player,” Pomeroy said. “And it’s really low for a point guard.”
And while VanVleet is the analytical star for the Shockers — his offensive rating is 67th nationally — it’s Early, a 6-foot-8 senior, who continues to impress Pomeroy the most.
Early leads the Shockers with 16.2 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“(Early) is easily the highest-producing guy on the team offensively, mainly because his rating is so high and consider that he’s not really getting any assists,” Pomeroy said. “He’s the most involved guy on the floor and he is really efficient … he is clearly the go-to guy.”
Early also takes 28.9 percent of the Shockers’ shots when he’s on the floor – shooting 46.1 percent – and has made more free throws (110 of 130) than the next Shocker, Baker (86 of 100) has attempted.
That’s not to say the Shockers are a one-, two- or even three-man show. Early, VanVleet, Baker and Tekele Cotton have started all 26 games and Cotton has an offensive rating of 114.6 and is only using 18.9 percent of the possessions when he’s on the floor.
“The thing that strikes me about the team is its balance,” Pomeroy said. “Baker gets a lot of attention for his shooting, but he’s only slightly higher at 21.2 percent than VanVleet at 19.4 percent. Their other full-time starter, Cotton, isn’t far behind at 18.3 percent. Cotton is the guy everybody talks about as the defensive stopper, but he’s really solid offensively, too. He’s efficient and his turnover rate is quite low.”
While the four starters all average between 27.6 and 32.2 minutes, the Shockers’ role players have also found ways to contribute. Junior forward Darius Carter (18.4 minutes) produces like a full-time starter with a 115.9 offensive rating. Senior forward Chadrack Lufile is grabbing 12.9 percent of the Shockers’ offensive rebounds, which ranks him 74th nationally.
WSU also has five of the top 10 players in the MVC when it comes to offensive ratings – Van Vleet (1), Baker (3), Carter (7), Early (9) and Cotton (10).
Just don’t expect WSU coach Gregg Marshall to invest much in Pomeroy’s — or anyone else’s — use of advanced statistics to evaluate players. Whether it applies to his team or other teams.
“I don’t use (advanced statistics),” Marshall said. “Maybe my assistants use that stuff, put I don’t put a lot into it.”
He does, however, pay attention to the team rankings — the Shockers are No. 6 in the RPI and No. 14 in Pomeroy’s team ratings.
“I know different people have said those ratings are important, and pay attention to them because it’s a tool that I’m told is used by the (NCAA) selection committee and it helps people to schedule better,” Marshall said. “I don’t know that for sure, because I’ve never been in that room, but I follow it so I know where we stand.”
Pomeroy caused a bit of a stir on Twitter late in Tuesday’s 78-67 win over Southern Illinois, tweeting: “Unfair to judge Wichita State on this game, but SIU as a road team is basically 16-seed quality,” which some Shocker fans took as a criticism because WSU had a hard time putting the Salukis away.
“They struggled, sure, but my first thought was it was just a letdown because they’d just played their two toughest road games of the year,” Pomeroy said. “What I meant by the tweet was that Southern Illinois is not a very good team and (WSU) is playing them in their building. That was maybe WSU’s worst game of the year, but you don’t judge them just on that.”