Nov 16, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats guard Troy Caupain (10) brings the ball down court during the second half against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at FifthThird Arena. Cincinnati defeated Appalachian St. 77-49. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Statestify! Using Player Efficiency To Determine An Optimum Cincinnati Bearcats Lineup

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We’re about one-quarter of the way through a 2013-14 basketball season with a team that still has an aura of enthusiasm surrounding them despite a loss to New Mexico on Saturday afternoon.

And for good reason.

Mick Cronin has established himself as one of the top coaches in the country and has a strong chance of leading UC to a conference championship this year. But the roster he’s working with is one of the strangest compilation of players since his first team that was made up of walk-ons, JUCOs, and a football player. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 2013-14 iteration of the Bearcats is one that simultaneously boasts a wealth of returning experience and one with a number of question marks. The reason is due to the incredibly high turnover on the roster.

Gone are the staples of Cincinnati’s NCAA Tournament team in Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker, and Cheikh Mbodj. Players like Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, and Titus Rubles are back but almost half of the Bearcats’ roster for this season is made up of freshman. They’re extremely talented but at the same time very green. It’s still a bit early but we have been able to identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of these freshman and what roles they serve on this team.

And while we’re only eight games into the season, all Bearcats green or grizzled have played enough to allow us to determine an optimum lineup. The best five players that give Cincinnati the biggest bang for their buck, if you will. In doing so I’ll evaluate each player’s major stats on a per minute basis to measure efficiency. You don’t see this too often but I’ve become quite fond of it in recent years.

The data points du jour in basketball (college or pros) are points per game, minutes played per game, and rebounds per game. Those are all well and good in most cases but don’t really do much for me when measuring efficiency, which can be had by looking at everything on a per minute basis. Essentially, it equalizes data for those all players regardless of how much time they spend on the court. Players might see less playing time but they might make the most of it. If Player A scores 10 points in 10 minutes, he’s averaging 1 point per minute. But if Player B scores 20 points in 10 minutes, he’s scoring at twice the rate of Player A and thus warrants more playing time.

Now I should mention a few things before we start digging into the data. First of all, the stats below look very, very small but that shouldn’t come as a shocker. Players average more time on the court than the points they score. The numbers are easier to wrap your head around if you take into account how many minutes that player spends on the court. For example, Sean Kilpatrick scores 0.67 points per minute. But he averages 29.5 minutes on the court per game, bringing his contribution to the scoreboard during that time to 19.6 points.

Overall, I would advise you look at the below numbers on a comparative rather than absolute basis.

Secondly, as we start making hypotheses about an optimum lineup I should mention a couple of other caveats at play when looking at the following data. The stats in the below tables don’t account for:

  1. Qualitative measures such as leadership and court presence
  2. Contributions defensively like standing in the right place, checking off to the proper players, etc.
  3. Their ability to mesh within Mick Cronin’s offensive/defensive system

Still, even with these limitations, we can make educated assumptions about which players give Mick Cronin and this Bearcats team the biggest bang for their buck on the court this season. And by the look of it, those five players are:

  • Sean Kilpatrick
  • Troy Caupain
  • Shaq Thomas/Jermaine Sanders
  • Titus Rubles
  • Justin Jackson

BACKCOURT

 
Sean Kilpatrick
Ge'Lawn Guyn
Troy Caupain
Kevin Johnson
Jeremiah Davis III
Points Per Minute0.670.340.390.290.20
Assists Per Minute0.110.060.100.040.07
Steals Per Minute0.060.010.060.020.03
Rebounds Per Minute0.130.100.120.110.13
Blocks Per Minute0.000.010.010.010.00
Turnovers Per Minute0.050.050.070.020.03
Kilpatrick is a lock to start and see extensive playing time in each and every game this season. His numbers bear that out. But for Ge’Lawn Guyn, his spot isn’t as secure. Up until this point, true freshman Troy Caupain has outproduced him from the point guard position. All of us can “see” that when we watch the games but the numbers above show that Caupain is superior to Guyn in scoring efficiency, assists, steals, and rebounds. Even though he just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago, he should start at point guard and be given 30-35 minutes per game at the position.

Guyn still serves a purpose, however, at shooting guard with Kevin Johnson. At this point, I would split time with those two at the position to help groom the youngster while keeping Guyn and his defensive contributions on the court.

MIDCOURT*

 
Titus Rubles
Shaq Thomas
Jermaine Sanders
Jermaine Lawrence
Points Per Minute0.400.280.270.26
Assists Per Minute0.050.070.040.04
Steals Per Minute0.070.060.050.04
Rebounds Per Minute0.240.150.180.22
Blocks Per Minute0.020.020.010.04
Turnovers Per Minute0.060.050.050.09
*”Midcourt” is a term I’m using here for players who are athletic enough to float between the front and backcourts. These guys are listed as “forwards” but there’s no way I’d park them under the basket like true post players.

Here’s where it starts to get a little fuzzy and part of that admittedly is my definition of this group of players. Obviously Titus Rubles deserves as much court time as he can get. Like with Sean Kilpatrick, the numbers bear that out. But after him is a toss up between Shaq Thomas, who has yet to break out this season, and Jermaine Sanders, who has made some surprisingly good contributions this year. Honestly you could make the argument for either right now.

Then there’s highly touted freshman Jermaine Lawrence. He’s shown flashes this season but just hasn’t quite gotten his feet under him just yet. By the numbers, he deserves playing time as much as Thomas or Sanders. But his inexperience and propensity to turn the ball over docks him a few points in my book. Lawrence’s potential is obviously sky-high but right now he’s behind Thomas and Sanders in the pecking order. That by no means regulates him to that spot this season. If he continues to sharpen his game, Lawrence could easily put up Titus Rubles-like numbers from this position by the end of the year.

FRONTCOURT

 
Justin Jackson
David Nyarsuk
Points Per Minute0.450.26
Assists Per Minute0.050.04
Steals Per Minute0.050.00
Rebounds Per Minute0.280.23
Blocks Per Minute0.140.06
Turnovers Per Minute0.070.06
This is the most cut and dry group on the team. Really that speaks to the lack of depth here more than anything, though. With Octavius Ellis gone and incoming freshman Jamaree Strickland apparently having issues with the NCAA, Mick Cronin is basically stuck with just Justin Jackson and David Nyarsuk in the low post. And by the numbers, the former has earned every minute of court time he is getting this season. But I will say that Nyarsuk needs to step up this year. If Jackson gets into any foul trouble, he’s the last line of defense under the basket. Mick Cronin needs to have faith his 7’0″ tower of a player can spell Jackson effectively.

******
So there you have it, Cincinnati’s optimum lineup of Kilpatrick, Caupain, Rubles, Jackson, and Thomas/Sanders. I’ll be the first to admit that this methodology has its flaws but player efficiency (stats on a per minute basis) is the best way to understand just how much each player benefits this team each time he hits the court. Given Cincinnati’s struggles to put points on the board consistently over the last few years, Mick Cronin should squeeze out every point he can get from this team. And this methodology can help him accomplish that.

Tags: Bearcats Bearcats Basketball

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