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Toppin Off: Statistically Inconsistent

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Consistency is the name of the game, and we don’t got it.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think I have any idea of what this team is. Are they good? Are they bad? I don’t know.

I really don’t. This team has no consistency. It feels like every time the locker-room doors open a different group of Eagles starts playing. And I don’t just mean game-to-game. I mean half-to-half. A frustrating game against #7 Duke this week saw the Eagles blow a small first half lead. It’s not the first time this season the Eagles showed that they can stick with anyone, if only for a limited time. Heck, look at the game against Louisville two weeks ago, where the Eagles trailed by just two at the half but lost by 17.

So I wanted to do some digging for some original content for you guys. And I wanted to see if I was right - if this truly was a different team half to half. There’s no statistic for variance in performance. First and second half scoring margins, -0.5 and -3.3 respectively for the Eagles, doesn’t really capture it. That does not show an image that the Eagles are constantly bouncing between good and bad. They’re just below-average in the first half and mediocre in the second.

So instead, I went though the box scores to determine how the Eagles played when they were good or bad. The table below shows the margin in a half, conditional on if BC was winning or losing. It shows, in a way, that when the Eagles win a half, they play really well. And then the opposite is also true; when they’re bad, they stink.

Green = BC led at half. Red = BC trailed at half.

When the Eagles are on, they’re 6.6 points better than their opponents on average. But in their bad halves, they are 9 points worse than their opponents. That variance is crazy, and even crazier when you consider that they’ve lost 25 halves compared to winning 21; Eagles are only down a little bit more than they are up. There are not any crazy sample size problems going on here (though my rudimentary statistics education tells me that 21 is on the low end of acceptable sample sizes).

Why is this? I think it comes down to two reasons. Jim Christian and his squad are the victims of failure to adjust and streak shooting. The latter has been apparent to anyone watching BC all year. When they’re hitting jump shots and threes, they can compete with anyone (please ignore most recent Duke game). Sometimes Jay Heath and Derryck Thornton come out hot, and sometimes Julian Rishwain and Jairus Hamilton swing momentum in the second half. Both (and their opposites) do not feel like they’re happening in the same game.

And as for the adjustments, JC has just failed to adjust whether he is ahead or behind. That contributes partially to streaky shooting – when your gameplan involves taking 22 three pointers per game you are going to eventually see a few in a row go in. But the Eagles have also just failed to adjust or anticipate opposing adjustments when they’re up. A switch after halftime to pressure defense by Duke last weekend played a major role in the Blue Devils’ second half surge. Weeks before, Jim Christian couldn’t get his defense to stop going under screens and adjust to Louisville’s Jordan Nwora, who ended up with 37 points and went 7-14 from deep. One can understand an opposing player catching fire in the first half. It happens. That’s basketball. I can’t understand not changing your defense enough during halftime.

The optimist in me says that this is all proof that there is some real talent in this group, enough to compete with almost anyone. But I still don’t think I’ve seen enough to believe that talent can be realized under this coaching staff.

*edit: obviously I would love to compare this to every other team in basketball to see if this team is an outlier, but I had to calculate this by hand and I don’t get paid enough for that.