CRAWFORD | Ten stats (and trends) that shed light on the Louisvi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Ten stats (and trends) that shed light on the Louisville basketball season

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky .(WDRB) -- As the University of Louisville heads into its regular-season finale today at 2 p.m. against Notre Dame in the KFC Yum! Center, a look at some statistical notes and trends that shed light on where the Cardinals are, and on who they are as a team:

1). Louisville enters the day as the lowest-ranked No. 2 seed, according to the website bracket matrix. The other No. 2 seeds, in order of rank, are Oregon, Baylor and Kentucky. The No. 3 seeds, in order, are UCLA, Butler, Arizona and Florida.

2). While the NCAA looks ready to accept more widespread use of advanced metrics in future tournament selections -- and has had discussions to that effect this season -- it looks as if the Ratings Percentage Index still will be baked into many deliberations of the committee this year, when it comes to measuring Top 50 wins and losses and strength of schedule. The NCAA says the RPI is just one of many tools it uses, yet it's hard to escape given the analytics the committee has to work with on the screens in front of its members.

If that's the case, it won't be a bad thing for U of L, which has fared well in the RPI all season. The Cardinals enter their final game with an RPI of No. 6 and a strength of schedule ranked No. 2. If Louisville were to beat Notre Dame, their RPI would be projected to rise to 4.3. If they were to lose, it would fall to somewhere around 9.8.

That shows how closely teams are grouped right now, and also what's at stake with each game for the Cardinals.

If Louisville were to beat Notre Dame today, its record against the RPI Top 25 would improve to 4-6, its record against the Top 50 to 8-8 and its record against the Top 100 to 15-8. Of its 31 games this season, 23 will have been played against teams in the Top 100 of the RPI and 16 -- just over half -- against teams in the Top 50.

3). Strength of schedule is one thing. Strength of offensive schedule is another. Today's game will be Louisville's sixth straight against teams ranked in the Top 32 nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.

Of Louisville's 31 regular-season games, 18 will have been played against teams in the Top 40 in offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy's site. Only Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and Iowa State have played better offensive schedules, and only Baylor, among those, has a defense ranked in the Top 20. It is ranked No. 8 in defensive efficiency. Louisville is No. 7.

Louisville's record in games against teams in the offensive Top 40 this season is 10-7.

4). RIck Pitino has said all season that his defense is not very good. All season, it has ranked among the Top 20 defenses in the nation in efficiency, and for much of the season, in the top five.

Can both things be true?

The answer to that is that everything is relative. The adjusted defensive efficiency number Louisville has right now. 90.4, is good for seventh in the nation. In the year Louisville won the national title, that number would've placed the Cards at 28th in the nation.
Officiating changes have injected more offense into the college game, making what Louisville does defensively more difficult. But there are a couple of other factors at play.

The ACC is a league built on offense, always has been. The Big East was a league built around bruising defenses. Louisville, in its third year in the league, still is adjusting to the change. The Cardinals are, simply put, playing better offenses. In addition the strength of this season's offensive schedule, the Cards faced the nation's No. 17 offensive schedule last season and No. 13 the year before (making their Top-5 defensive finishes all the more impressive).

In their last year before joining the ACC, the Cards faced an offensive schedule ranked No. 91. The championship team faced an offensive schedule ranked No. 15; the 2012 Final Four team -- probably Pitino's best defensive team at Louisville -- faced an offensive schedule ranked No. 3 and still led the nation in defensive efficiency (that's how you get to the Final Four with little offense to speak of.) In 2009, when Louisville was the No. 1 overall seed in what many viewed as the toughest year ever in the Big East, its offensive schedule ranked No. 55. The defensive efficiency number it posted this season would have ranked No. 34 that year.

Anyway, the bottom line answer to the original question is this: Relative to the rest of the defenses in NCAA Division I, Louisville's defense is pretty good. Relative to Pitino's usual standards of defense, and to what is required against the top-level offenses it has to face in a majority of games, it is lacking.

5). The following chart is taken from Synergy Sports data (and I usually don't share these because it's a pay service, but this is a partial chart) shows how Louisville's defense ranks in various areas, relative to the rest of NCAA Division I.

6). Pitino began the season saying this would be a full man-to-man defensive team, and would press constantly. The lack of back-court depth and weakness of his team in transition has forced him to back off on that approach at times.

This Louisville team is among the bottom 10 percent in the NCAA Division I at scoring in transition. It scores 0.932 points per transition possession. That ranks it No. 316 out of 351 Division I teams in the nation. Only one Power 5 team (Tennessee) ranks lower.

Louisville scores on 44.9 percent of its transition opportunities. The nation's leader, Virginia, scores on 61.5 percent.

7). Louisville scores 40.5 percent of the time it has the ball coming out of timeouts. Louisville's points per possession out of timeouts ranks No. 108 in the nation, in the top 30 percent of Division I teams. The Cardinals average 0.906 points per possession coming out of timeouts (a stat identical, by the way, to the University of Kentucky).

Team you don't want to face coming out of a timeout in the NCAA Tournament: UCLA, which scores on 47.6 percent of such possessions, best among the likely field.

8). So where are the areas where the Cardinals are best, relative to the rest of the teams in the nation? They rank No. 10 nationally in offensive efficiency against zone defenses, at 1.099 points per possession. (They have faced zones on 19.4 percent of their possessions this season.)

Incidentally, the team just ahead of them, at No. 9 nationally against zones, is Notre Dame.

The Cards have only two players rated "Excellent" by Synergy on overall offense. Jaylen Johnson, who averages 1.038 points per possession and scores on 53.3 percent of them, and Matz Stockman, who scores 1.033 per possession but whose touches are so limited they don't give a fair representation. Donovan Mitchell, V.J. King and Anas Mahmoud are rated "very good" offensively.

Defensively, the Cardinals give up 0.813 points per possession, good for 15th nationally (tied with Minnesota). These raw stats differ from Ken Pomeroy's numbers, because he adjusts his for tempo.

9). The Cardinals have played man-to-man defense 74.3 percent of the time this season and zone 25.7 -- though their zone often morphs into a man-to-man. Synergy generally tracks what is being played at the end of a player, however, and is as accurate a gauge as we can get.

The Louisville man-to-man is rated No. 8 in points allowed per possession. Its zone is No. 108.

10). The Cards are playing faster this season. Louisville is averaging 68.6 possessions per 40 minutes, according to Pomeroy. That ranks No. 184 in the nation. It's two possessions more per game than the Cardinals averaged a year ago, and nearly three more per game than in 2015.

The fastest tempo for a recent Pitino team was the Russ Smith-Luke Hancock team in 2014, which averaged 68.9 possessions for 40 minutes. The championship team averaged 66.8 per 40 minutes.

The fastest tempo ever for a Pitino-coached Louisville team was the 2003 group featuring Reece Gaines, Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean, Luke Whitehead, Marvin Stone and others. That team averaged 74.3. possessions per game.

Last season marked the first time ever under Pitino that Louisville had less than the Division I average in possessions per 40 minutes. This season, Louisville is right at the average.

BONUS: Free-throw rate takes a second to get your head around, as a statistic, but it's worth looking at for a moment, because sending opponents to the free-throw line has been a problem at times for the Cardinals. Your free-throw rate is the number of free throws you shoot (or allow) per 100 field-goal attempts.

This year, Louisville's defensive free-throw rate is 40 percent. (Another reason Pitino says its defensive metrics are misleading.) That ranks 275th in Division I. The only Power 5 teams giving up more free throws per 100 shots are West Virginia, Tennessee and Oklahoma State. It is down slightly from a year ago (40.5), but way up from two seasons ago (33.3). The lowest-ever for a Pitino-coached Louisville team was in 2009 (30.2).

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