Big Ten Five Year Trends - Offense

Sometimes, the best way to know where you're headed is to look at where you've been. In a series of posts, starting today, we'll look at statistical 5-year trends - first for the conference as a whole, then for each individual team. Today, we'll look at the offensive numbers for the conference as a whole.

For all of these charts, the numbers are for the entire season, including non-conference games. I felt that this larger sample size could give us a better idea of the nature of each team. Just looking at conference games would give us a great idea of how the teams relate to each other, but would tell us very little about their standing nationally.

First, Adjusted Offensive Efficiency:

Each blue dot represents a Big Ten team; the pink dot is the average of all teams for that season. On the whole, the Big Ten has been slightly better offensively the last two seasons than the three seasons before. We can see some outliers - in 2004 and 2005, Illinois and Michigan State were dominant offenses, well above the rest of the conference. Ohio State in 2007 (of Greg Oden, Mike Conley, et al) was the other dominant offense of the past 5 years and posted the best efficiency over that timeframe.

On the negative side, we see a truly awful 2004 Penn State squad. No other team even came close to that level of offensive futility.

Now, Effective FG%:

It's interesting to see the way the teams are converging over the past 5 years. Almost every team was within that 48-53% range in 2008, except for those pesky Wolverines. With Michigan expected to improve in this area, it will be interesting to see if the bunching continues, although I could see the depleted Hoosiers being the ones to spoil the party in 2009.

Next is Turnover%:

Again, 2008 showed a lot of parity in this area, except for one awful outlier. In this case, that offender was Iowa. As a coach that emphasizes taking care of the ball, Todd Lickliter must have been tearing his hair out. I expect Iowa to improve in this area in 2009, partly because they can't get much worse, and partly because Lickliter has the track record for it.

It's somewhat amazing to me how consistent the conference average has remained over the past 5 years. It will be interesting to see if the average begins to dip as low-TO coaches Lickliter and Beilein build their programs.

Here's Offensive Rebounding:

This is an area where the conference has shown marked improvement over the past two seasons, and it hasn't really been driven by one dominant team. One thing to note - all those dots across the bottom belong to Northwestern, which has finished worst in this area each of the last 5 years. The only teams that have crossed the 38% threshold are Michigan State (2005, 2007, 2008) and, surprisingly, Michigan (2007). Note that three of those four instances occured in the past two seasons.

Next is Free Throw Rate - a measure of a team's ability to get to the foul line:

This number has been all over the place, but the conference average is trending downward. I have a feeling this is related to the increased proportion of 3-point shots taken:

Looks like a pretty nice correlation between the two averages - notice how 2007 was a temporary break from the trend in both charts? Again, with Beilein and Lickliter bringing their perimeter-oriented offensives into the conference, I would expect these trends to continue, but the new 3-point line may throw a wrench into that glidepath.

So, if Big Ten teams are shooting outside more and, consequently, getting to the free throw line less and less, are they at least converting free throws when they get them?

Interestingly, FT% is following the same trend as Free Throw Rate. Are teams intentionally avoiding penetration and contact - and taking more threes - partly because of their FT shooting struggles? I'd venture to say no, but this may be worth further investigation.

For a further look at shooting:

The conference again appears to be bunching up in a narrower range than in years past. Those last three outliers (below 32%) were Northwestern in 2007 and Michigan and Illinois in 2008. Northwestern has already come up from that level, and I expect both Michigan and Illinois to improve in this area in 2009. Unfortunately, the conference as a whole loses big-time shooters in Armon Bassett (45%), Lawrence McKenzie (43%), Drew Neitzel (40%) and Jamar Butler (38%); each made at least two 3-pointers per game, really lifting the conference average.

One of the more interesting storylines this season will be tracking the effect of the deeper 3-point line. I've got to think that 3-pt FG% and the number of 3-pointers taken will both decline. It remains to be seen what type of teams will benefit most from this rule change, as discussed in our interview with John Gasaway. You can bet we'll be tracking this as the season progesses.

Enough with the long-range bombers - what about the bruisers and slashers working inside the arc?

We've seen the conference average drop the past two seasons, so that strategy of shooting more threes seems to be appropriate. Again, it will be interesting to see how these numbers will be impacted by the deeper 3-point stripe. Will marginal three-point shooters forego the deep shot and instead take it to the basket? Will coaches put more emphasis on getting the ball into the post? Will the deeper stripe pull defenses farther from the basket, opening up the lane? Lots of different angles to consider, and we at Big Ten Geeks will be searching for the effects, both this season and beyond.

One last stat - Assists per Made FG:

Notice the soaring dots across the top - that's Northwestern, which has finished 1st or 2nd in the nation in this category each of the last 5 years. That fact in itself tells you the limited value of this statistic (sorry Wildcats!). The only other Big Ten team to come close to the 70% mark was Michigan State in 2007, at 69.4%.

Up next - a look at the 5-year conference trends in defensive statistics.