Pitt and the Advanced Stats (because the regular ones made me sad)
Hello all, and welcome to the first week of college basketball. Throughout this piece, I will be looking at some statistical measures to quantify the expectations for the upcoming season and the results of last season. I know not all of you may be familiar with some of these statistics so I will do my best to explain and provide context behind all the numbers. Without further delay, let's get into it.
*edit*: I am putting this little blurb in the beginning of this piece to note this article was written before the losses of both Nike SIbande for the season with an ACL tear, and Ithiel Horton to general idiocy. Losing the two players so close to the start of the year is a huge blow to Pitt, and in Horton's case, another legal issue with this team reflects poorly on Capel's acumen as a coach. More on this problem and Capel's future later.... Now to the article.
When looking back at the 2020-2021 Pitt Panthers' advanced stats, there are some positive takeaways lying beneath the Panthers' dismal 10-12 overall record. In my previous article, I had discussed how I thought the Panther's under Jeff Capel need to establish an "identity" on the court and in turn, recruit to that identity. When looking back at the statistics of last year and years previous under Capel, some forms of "identity" can start to be made out.
To begin, the Panthers were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country last season. Per barttorvik.com, an advanced analytic tool for college basketball stats, found in the (unpaid) vein of famed kenpom.com, the Panthers ranked 20th in the country in Offensive Rebound Percentage. Their top four contributors in this team statistic were (in order) John Hugley, Terrell Brown, Justin Champagnie, and Max Adamasun. Of these four, two players remain on the roster. As Senior Terrell Brown ended his productive four year career at Pitt and Sophomore Justin Champagnie signed with the NBA's Toronto Raptors this offseason, that leaves former four-star forward John Hugley and Center Max Adamasun to do the heavy lifting on the offensive glass for the Panthers this year. Hugley, billed as a bruising big man out of Brush High School in Cleveland, certainly has the talent and physical frame to keep the Panthers afloat on the glass this season. At six foot nine and 240 pounds, Hugley will be a focal point if Pitt wants to continue its success on the offensive glass. In addition to him and Adamasun, another player to keep an eye on is Stony Brook transfer Mouhamadou Gueye. Nicknamed "Mo", Gueye was the standout of Pitt's scrimmage against Gannon College on November 1st, scoring 17 points and securing ten rebounds to go along with four blocks. If Pitt is able to continue this trend of rebounding the ball well on the offensive glass, they figure to create a lot of second chances for their offense to score points. This will ultimately help Pitt win more games.
Free Throws (and Femi)
Another bright spot, statistically speaking, for Jeff Capel's team was their ability to draw fouls. Per Torvik, the Panthers ranked 46th in the country in Free Throw Rate. This stat, abbreviated FTR, is the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts a team draws. Pitt ranked well above the D1 average in FTR and a major contributor to that was a player who stepped into a larger role after the midseason turnover that saw multiple players leave the program. The player I am referring to is Sophomore Guard Femi Odukale. Odukale, a three star recruit from Brooklyn by way of Commonwealth Academy in Massachusetts, was a welcomed revelation in his Freshman season to a Panther team that watched Junior Point Guard Xavier Johnson opt out and enter the transfer portal in late February of this year. Odukale, a six foot three inch combo guard, provided much needed offensive production for the team last season. His damage came when attacking the basket. Odukale had the second highest Free Throw Rate of anyone on the team last year. Despite his success getting to the charity stripe, Odukale struggled to convert his opportunities. Making just 36 of 73 attempts, that equates to a .493 free throw percentage, the worst of any Panther player that logged a single free throw attempt. And a further look into his shooting splits reveals he isn't much of a perimeter threat at all. Femi took only 24 three point shots last season, good for .333 percent. He also had the second lowest three-point attempt rate of Panther players who played over 50% of the minutes last season. So while he shot a roughly average percentage from three, he didn't take many.
Despite his paltry three-point and free throw shooting, Odukale provided value for Pitt running the offense. Seeing a greatly increased role on the team after the departure of Xavier Johnson, then Pitt's primary ball handler and distributor, Odukale logged a 21.2% Assist rate, and a 1.4 Assist/Turnover ratio. These numbers rank him just behind Johnson on the 2020-21 team and, considering he was just a freshman, indicate a sophisticated talent for distributing the ball. If Odukale is able to maintain his assist rate and his ability to draw fouls, it will be a major help to the Panther offense this season. However, the one thing that really needs improvement is free throw shooting.
Odukale's problems at the line are not new for Capel. In his three seasons as Pitt's Head Coach, Capel's teams have shot 69.7% from the Free Throw line in 2018-19, then 71.3% in the 2019-20 season, and finally 66.4% last year in 2020-21. I am looking for this year's team to maintain an elite FTR but hopefully improve their success at the line to over 70%, not a great, but a reasonable percentage. This will help them edge out some extra wins in close games. And as we have learned, every win in the ACC matters.
Projecting Strength of Schedule and Basketball's WAR equivalent
Looking onward to the schedule that Pitt has in front of it for the 2021-22 season. There are few expected wins. The non conference slate is highlighted by an early season run-in with Bob Huggins' West Virginia squad on November 12th in Morgantown, a Big10/ACC matchup against Minnesota at the Petersen Events Center on November 30th, and finally an old-school Big East reunion with St. John's at Madison Square Garden in the Gotham Classic tournament later on in December. These games, paired with the brutal ACC conference schedule ahead, leave Pitt a projected 12-19 overall record (5-15 in the ACC), per barttorvik.com. Torvik has Pitt taking on a whopping ten quadrant 1 and 1A teams. Needless to say, the season outlook is grim if Win/Losses are what you as a fan are concerned with. However hopeless Pitt's chances of winning the ACC Championship and receiving an automatic NCAA Tournament bid, there is a stat used by Torvik to quantify their overall value as a team as it pertains to being on the famed "NCAA Tournament Bubble".
Torvik's statistic is similar to the iconic baseball statistic WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. WAR is used, in baseball, to measure a specific player's value over the average replacement level player. In basketball, and on Torvik's site, their sister stat is abbreviated "WAB", or Wins Above Bubble. Explained eloquently by Calvin Wetzel of Her Hoops Stats Newsletter, "The basic explanation of WAB is that it is precisely what the name sounds like: the number of wins a team has above a typical bubble team’s expectation. In other words, it answers the question, 'How many more wins does Team A have than the number of wins a bubble team would be expected to have against the same schedule?'". Using the Torvik data from the 2020-21 season, Pitt was -3.9 Wins Above the Bubble. This means that the Panthers lost, roughly, four more games than an expected Bubble team would have against the same schedule. This provides us with some metric for success for Pitt this year. A successful season for the Panthers would mean they increase their WAB closer to even.
Good Ole' Pitt
In summation, these preseason rankings/projections can only take us so far, and until the games are played, they have little bearing on how I as a fan will consume this season. We all know Pitt won't be very good. We all know Pitt likely won't make the tournament. But there are statistical trends that Pitt should look to continue, and some they can improve upon in their steps to grow the identity of the program. If they can continue to draw free throws at an excellent rate and rebound the ball well on the offensive glass, those are some hallmark signs of consistency. And consistency will go a long way in figuring out which types of players to recruit, and will ultimately move Pitt toward being a positive WAB team. Maybe in the near future the Panthers receive some support for an At-Large bid to the NCAA Tournament. This should be the next logical goal for the program.
I'm overjoyed to finally have my weekday nights filled up with classic College Basketball. The traditions, the rivalries, the coaches, and the iconic NCAA Tournament await us in the coming months. And just like you all, I will be cheering for good ole' Pitt. It might not be much of a program right now, but Pitt has a way of sucking you in as a fan. Despite my four years as a student being tormented by the ghost of Kevin Stallings, Pitt has a unique way of making you believe every year. And I'm excited. Maybe not to win a bunch of games and gain the national exposure fans were so accustomed to in the 90's and early 2000's, but to watch the Panthers continue building something. Hopefully, with a decent season (and a lot of Iron City Light), we will finish off the year as the version of Pitt fans that have optimism and pride in the direction the program is heading.
Once again, much love to you all, and Hail To Pitt!