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2015 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region: Previewing #12 Buffalo Bulls vs #5 West Virginia Mountaineers with the Four Factors

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It's just like last week here at Bull Run, where we're waiting til Thursday for any sort of action, and to Friday for the men's game. Now that the initial flurry of articles is calming down (though I've got an evening links roundup for you tonight, too), we've just got to talk about the game.

With more time between games and the opponent set, I've got an opportunity to do more preview work. As I told Brad Riter earlier this afternoon, I'm not a stats guy who lives and dies with them, but at times they can be useful. One of the best predictors of basketball success is the Four Factors, four stats that isolate maximizing possessions and maximizing getting points out of possessions. At its core, a Four Factor analysis is essentially breaking up Points Per Possession (PPP) into its constituent parts, but bringing along with it a huge jump forward in nuance.

The all-important Four Factors are as follows:

Effective FG% (eFG%)

Even if you're not familiar with the stat, you're certainly familiar with the concept at play: a lower three-point percentage can be more valuable than a higher two-point shooting percentage because the yield is higher.

eFG% is calculated just like FG%, but with three-pointers counting as 1.5 made shots. Essentially, instead of a ratio between made shots and shot attempts, it's a ratio of points scored to shot attempts

Turnover Percentage (TOV%)

This one is near-self-explanatory, a measure of how often a team turns the ball over. The formula is a bit complex (because the formula for estimating possessions has a few moving parts), but the concept is simple. A TOV% of 10.0 (1) is unsustainably low and (2) means turnovers occurred on 10% of possessions

Rebounding Percentage (ORB% and DRB%)

This one is also pretty simple: how many opportunities for rebounds did the team pull down at each end. You can combine them together, but in this post I'll be looking at offense and defense separately.

Free Throw Percentage (FTR)

Not quite what you might think. Hitting 100% of your free throws isn't valuable if you only get to the line four times a game. Rather, what is valuable is turning a high rate of your possessions into made foul shots. This is a ratio of made free throws to total shots attempted.

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None of this is wild, supercomputer stuff. It all supports common-sense lines of thinking. Functionally, eFG% and FTR are about maximizing the offensive yield of your possessions, while TOV% and RB% are about maximizing your possessions, because you only score points when you have the ball.

West Virginia has built its success this year on a nation-leading offensive rebounding percentage and a wildly aggressive defense that forces turnover more than 25% of the time, two stats that directly flow into the Four Factors.

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Time to cut to the stats. I've decided to break the factors into offense and defense, which is my prerogative.An up-front caveat: I have no clue how strongly strength of schedule factors into these stats. Presumably it plays some non-negligible role, but I can't begin to quantify it.

First, each team's offense:

Four Factors: Offense
Buffalo West Virginia
eFG% 48.6% 46.6%
TOV% 15.9% 17.9%
ORB% 34.7% 40.9%
FTR 30.5% 26.6%

The first two categories are reasonably similar, but the bottom two show a large advantage one way or the other. West Virginia gets a second chance out of 40% of their shots - a full third of their possessions when you account for turnovers - while Buffalo earns a chance for extra points on 30% of their shots.

For context, let's assume a 70-possession game. West Virginia would be on track for a little over 20 offensive boards on 54 possessions that don't end in turnovers, with UB a touch behind them. The discrepancy would be somewhat leveled out by Buffalo's lower turnover rate.

At the line, the 4% difference in FTR likely represents a difference of two or three successful trips to the line over the course of this game.

Four Factors: Defense
Buffalo West Virginia
eFG% 48.4% 52.6%
TOV% 19.7% 27.0%
DRB% 69.5% 69.8%
FTR 22.3% 38.4%

On defense, the differences are more pronounced. You see the benefits of WVU's "Press Virginia" scheme, but you also see that they give up a lot of points when opponents hang onto the ball, both from the field and from the line. Buffalo, as you'd except from a successful team running an eight-man rotation, does not send their opponents to the line very much.

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Once again, I don't know how much strength-of-schedule affects this, but it's certain it does to some extent. I'll leave you with the same tables, just rearranged slightly:

Four Factors: Buffalo has the ball
Buffalo offense West Virginia defense
eFG% 48.6% 52.6%
TOV% 15.9% 27.0%
RB% 34.7% 69.8%
FTR 30.5% 38.4%

UB should shoot well, even if WVU has an easier time defending shots than in the Big XII. Turnovers will go up, but hopefully not egregiously so, and Buffalo's going to score from the line.

Four Factors: West Virginia has the ball
Buffalo defense West Virginia defense
eFG% 48.4% 46.6%
TOV% 19.7% 17.9%
RB% 69.5% 40.9%
FTR 22.3% 26.6%

Looking at this and applying a mild buffer for a presumed step-down in competition from the Big XII, I would expect West Virginia to score from the field and the line and turn the ball over at similar rates to their regular season. The question on this end will be offensive rebounding.

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Go Bulls