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Tempo-Free and Advanced College Basketball Stats: A Guide


This story appears in the 2013-14 Athlon Sports College basketball annual. This year’s edition previews every team in the country and includes everything you need to now to prepare for the upcoming season. The annual is available online and on newsstands near you.

Some stats lie. Just as on-base percentage, OPS and WAR have become chic among baseball fans, basketball fans have a chance to impress their friends with statistics. Here’s a quick guide:

Replace points per game with...
Points per possession (a.k.a. offensive and defensive efficiency).
Different teams have different styles of play. A faster offense will yield more possessions on both sides of the court, a more deliberate offense will yield fewer possessions. Points per game does not accurately reflect how effectively a team plays offense or defense. A possession ends on a made field goal attempt, a missed shot rebounded by the defense, free throws or a turnover, thus points per possession more accurately measures how often a team gets a favorable result when it runs its offense. The median college team scored 1.01 points per possession last season (or 101 points per 100 possession, as it is sometimes noted).

Related: Tempo-free stats make their way out of the underground

Replace rebound margin with...
Offensive and defensive rebounds and rebound percentages.
“One of the interesting things we found when we people started doing analytics on basketball is that on a team level, offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding are really a separate skills and they’re not really related,” Ken Pomeroy says. Minnesota, for example, led the Big Ten in offensive rebounds, but was 10th in defensive rebounds last season. Team rebound margin combines the two, creating a misleading stat. The more accurate stat separates the two and determines the rates at which the defense or offense claims a missed shot. Team A’s offensive rebound percentage equals Team A’s offensive rebounds divided by (Team A offensive rebounds plus Team B defensive rebounds). The same principle applies to defensive rebounding percentages, or the rate of available missed shots rebounded by the defense.

Replace field goal percentage with...
Two-point percentage and three-point percentage or effective field goal percentage.
A similar concept to the rebounding rule above. Three-point shooting rate is often used as a stand-alone statistic in college basketball, but the poor 2-pointer doesn’t get the same luxury. Shooting at a lower percentage, but making more threes isn’t necessarily inefficient. “If you’re a guy or a team that takes a lot 3-pointers, your field goal percentage is not going to look as good as it should,” Pomeroy says. “But if you’re making those shots, you’re making three points, obviously.” Effective field goal percentage gives the added weight to a 3-pointer, as it is worth 50 percent more. The formula is: (0.5 x made 3-pointers + total made field goals) divided by total field goals attempted.