Army and Lafayette Push Substitutions Limit

If you were just watching who comes in and out of an Army basketball game you might think that you accidentally went to the wrong arena. Complete line changes make it seems like a hockey game has broken out. The Black Knights’ Zach Spiker has a 12-man rotation and it’s not uncommon to see five new players take the court at once.

The antics of his fellow Patriot League head coach Fran O’Hanlon at Lafayette aren’t quite the same. The Leopards’ head coach shuffles guys in and out seemingly at every dead ball trying to get favorable match ups on offense and defense. Beset by injuries this season O’Hanlon is trying to maximize the pieces of his depleted roster.

These are the two most extreme cases – in fact they’re more than three standard deviations away from college basketball’s mean – but every coach is constantly substituting during a college basketball. In NCAA Division I teams substitute about four times every five minutes, or an average of 32 times during a full game. It doesn’t have anything to do with team quality or pace either. It’s purely the style of the head coach that really seems to influence.

Let’s start with a simple question. How much do teams substitute during a game? Using the play-by-play logs available on the NCAA.org website I calculated the rate for each team. (*See below for the methodology.) Here’s a histogram of the rounded totals for each team.

SubsCountHistogram

As you can see, while the average number of substitutions is 32 times per game, the most common number of subs a team makes in a game is around 29 (22 teams). There’s more weight though towards the high end of the scale, especially due to two outliers, Army and Lafayette. Let’s look at the extremes.

Most Subs Per Game:

  1. Army: 67.8
  2. Lafayette: 65.7
  3. Central Michigan: 56.8
  4. VCU: 53.9
  5. Eastern Illinois: 53.7
  6. Siena: 53.5
  7. Hartford: 51.9
  8. Lipscomb: 49.2
  9. Manhattan: 48.9
  10. Bakersfield: 48.1

Fewest Subs Per Game:

  1. Grand Canyon: 14.5
  2. American: 15.6
  3. Oakland: 17.5
  4. N.C. Central: 18.4
  5. Lamar: 18.5
  6. Texas Southern: 18.5
  7. East Carolina: 18.6
  8. Fordham: 18.7
  9. IUPUI: 19.4
  10. Coppin St.: 19.5

Yes, the Battle of the Bronx featured two teams at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. There’s more than a 30 substitutions per game difference between Steve Masiello and Tom Pecora this season.

Pecora’s options this season though are quite limited. The Rams have been beset by injuries and don’t have that many scholarship players that Fordham feels comfortable having on the court for a long period of time. That probably plays into this number quite a bit. It’s not that Pecora doesn’t want to sub at least a little more, he just can’t. (Grand Canyon – in its first season of Division I – is another example of this phenomenon.)

On the other end of the spectrum what drives a coach to sub a ton isn’t necessarily obvious. Across Division I there’s no statistically significant relationship between tempo and the average number of substitutions. Don’t believe me? Check out this graph. The blob is super impressive.

TempoVsSubstitutions

There’s also no relationship between the number of substitutions a team makes and how good it is (at least based on pythogorean expectation). Some good teams like Syracuse, Stanford and Iowa St. don’t sub much at all. Others, such as VCU, Manhattan, Indiana St. and Indiana are in the Top 45 in terms of the number of subs they make per game and in KenPom’s Top 100. I thought that there might potentially be a bell curve – where teams in the middle of pythagorean expectation would sub quite a bit – but that fails to occur. Basically, there are coaches that play it close to the vest and coaches that want to play a ton of players at all levels of Division I. Here’s the graph showing that relationship:

PythagoreanVsSubstitutions

Overall, it seems as if the number of substitutions a coach makes during a game is largely a matter of personal preference. One thing I have anecdotally noticed is overmatched teams scaling down their rotations in close games. For instance, St. Francis Brooklyn subs about 29 times per game, but only subbed 15 times when they were trying to upset Syracuse. I’d have to do further study to see if there’s some sweet spot where that relationship actually exists.

Army and Lafayette are two huge outliers early in the season. Still, it’s great that if Spiker and O’Hanlon want to shuffle players in and out faster than a Vegas dealer, they can. It’s a unique quality of college basketball.

*Methodology: I built a script that pulls the substitutions for each game using text parsing of the HTML play-by-play logs available on NCAA.org. Here’s the Battle of the Bronx example from earlier. Because the logs are based on StatCrew XML that’s uploaded, the wording is standardized, which makes separating the substitutions a doable endeavor. The entire process takes a few hours (there are a lot of web pages to hit). Also, due to this data collection strategy, games that haven’t been uploaded yet are (obviously) not included in the analysis. The data was as current as possible through Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. I’ve added a table below so you can see where your favorite team ranks and how many games were analyzed.

Team Total Subs Games Avg. Subs
Army 610 9 67.8
Lafayette 657 10 65.7
Central Mich. 625 11 56.8
VCU 701 13 53.9
Eastern Ill. 591 11 53.7
Siena 589 11 53.5
Hartford 623 12 51.9
Lipscomb 541 11 49.2
Manhattan 538 11 48.9
Bakersfield 625 13 48.1
Pacific 521 11 47.4
Winthrop 472 10 47.2
Savannah St. 565 12 47.1
Northern Ill. 422 9 46.9
Tulsa 561 12 46.8
Texas-Arlington 555 12 46.3
Penn 368 8 46.0
Robert Morris 552 12 46.0
Stony Brook 552 12 46.0
Alcorn 459 10 45.9
Wofford 504 11 45.8
Howard 685 15 45.7
Tennessee Tech 635 14 45.4
Mercer 498 11 45.3
Ball St. 360 8 45.0
Georgia 448 10 44.8
Jackson St. 491 11 44.6
Kent St. 488 11 44.4
New Orleans 310 7 44.3
Southern Utah 396 9 44.0
Boston College 482 11 43.8
Indiana St. 481 11 43.7
Wright St. 608 14 43.4
North Dakota 433 10 43.3
Mt. St. Mary’s 431 10 43.1
Stephen F. Austin 474 11 43.1
VMI 467 11 42.5
North Texas 508 12 42.3
UC Riverside 423 10 42.3
Northwestern St. 503 12 41.9
Liberty 502 12 41.8
Indiana 500 12 41.7
DePaul 457 11 41.5
UMKC 457 11 41.5
Florida A&M 456 11 41.5
Auburn 331 8 41.4
Southern California 455 11 41.4
Villanova 453 11 41.2
Monmouth 493 12 41.1
Southern Miss. 526 13 40.5
Quinnipiac 403 10 40.3
George Washington 443 11 40.3
Richmond 440 11 40.0
San Francisco 439 11 39.9
North Dakota St. 518 13 39.8
Illinois 478 12 39.8
SIU Edwardsville 438 11 39.8
Southern Ill. 397 10 39.7
Illinois St. 435 11 39.5
Oregon St. 316 8 39.5
Charleston So. 393 10 39.3
Toledo 432 11 39.3
Jacksonville 391 10 39.1
Georgia St. 428 11 38.9
Florida 426 11 38.7
Fairfield 385 10 38.5
Minnesota 462 12 38.5
South Fla. 385 10 38.5
South Carolina 268 7 38.3
Elon 459 12 38.3
Boston U. 458 12 38.2
Cincinnati 416 11 37.8
Loyola Maryland 378 10 37.8
Belmont 490 13 37.7
Texas 451 12 37.6
Purdue 450 12 37.5
Loyola Chicago 412 11 37.5
George Mason 337 9 37.4
Marquette 448 12 37.3
Radford 373 10 37.3
Portland 446 12 37.2
Akron 260 7 37.1
Buffalo 297 8 37.1
Dayton 408 11 37.1
UMBC 445 12 37.1
North Carolina 406 11 36.9
Mississippi St. 368 10 36.8
Kentucky 439 12 36.6
Chattanooga 438 12 36.5
Bradley 437 12 36.4
LIU Brooklyn 400 11 36.4
Fairleigh Dickinson 471 13 36.2
A&M-Corpus Chris 398 11 36.2
Georgia Tech 432 12 36.0
Northeastern 360 10 36.0
Xaver 431 12 35.9
Green Bay 359 10 35.9
Washington St. 394 11 35.8
North Florida 465 13 35.8
Nevada 393 11 35.7
Valparaiso 464 13 35.7
Gardner-Webb 499 14 35.6
Michigan St. 392 11 35.6
Ohio 356 10 35.6
UT Martin 534 15 35.6
High Point 352 10 35.2
Rhode Island 387 11 35.2
Holy Cross 350 10 35.0
Pittsburgh 419 12 34.9
Colorado 418 12 34.8
Old Dominion 418 12 34.8
Ole Miss 348 10 34.8
Mississippi Val. 347 10 34.7
Creighton 345 10 34.5
UNC Greensboro 448 13 34.5
Seattle 379 11 34.5
Saint Peter’s 310 9 34.4
Maryland 413 12 34.4
Georgetown 344 10 34.4
Maine 344 10 34.4
Virginia Tech 378 11 34.4
Wichita St. 377 11 34.3
Baylor 342 10 34.2
South Carolina St. 342 10 34.2
Saint Louis 442 13 34.0
UC Irvine 438 13 33.7
NJIT 404 12 33.7
Sacred Heart 404 12 33.7
Eastern Mich. 335 10 33.5
Nicholls St. 301 9 33.4
Eastern Ky. 434 13 33.4
Hampton 400 12 33.3
Middle Tenn. 400 12 33.3
Utah Valley 364 11 33.1
Seton Hall 362 11 32.9
Tennessee 329 10 32.9
Sacramento St. 263 8 32.9
Arizona 393 12 32.8
Yale 360 11 32.7
Coastal Caro. 390 12 32.5
Louisiana Tech 390 12 32.5
Tennessee St. 422 13 32.5
Vermont 356 11 32.4
Neb. Omaha 388 12 32.3
South Ala. 387 12 32.3
Tex.-Pan American 419 13 32.2
South Dakota St. 451 14 32.2
New Mexico St. 450 14 32.1
Longwood 384 12 32.0
Memphis 320 10 32.0
Santa Clara 352 11 32.0
Cornell 319 10 31.9
Western Ky. 319 10 31.9
Navy 318 10 31.8
Rider 318 10 31.8
Kansas St. 348 11 31.6
San Jose St. 348 11 31.6
Bryant 379 12 31.6
Princeton 347 11 31.5
Abilene Christian 409 13 31.5
Samford 409 13 31.5
La Salle 345 11 31.4
Bucknell 311 10 31.1
Florida St. 342 11 31.1
Detroit 373 12 31.1
Norfolk St. 373 12 31.1
Virginia 341 11 31.0
Columbia 371 12 30.9
Lehigh 367 12 30.6
Oral Roberts 367 12 30.6
Louisville 336 11 30.5
Towson 397 13 30.5
Col. of Charleston 366 12 30.5
Duke 335 11 30.5
Montana St. 304 10 30.4
UNI 334 11 30.4
Cal St. Fullerton 364 12 30.3
Clemson 332 11 30.2
Northern Ky. 332 11 30.2
Hawaii 271 9 30.1
Youngstown St. 420 14 30.0
Loyola Marymount 359 12 29.9
Duquesne 299 10 29.9
San Diego St. 299 10 29.9
Central Ark. 269 9 29.9
Fla. Atlantic 358 12 29.8
Kennesaw St. 358 12 29.8
Idaho 357 12 29.8
Missouri 327 11 29.7
Wagner 356 12 29.7
Marshall 355 12 29.6
Penn St. 355 12 29.6
UNLV 295 10 29.5
Southern U. 324 11 29.5
St. John’s (NY) 324 11 29.5
Brown 265 9 29.4
Houston 382 13 29.4
Prairie View 323 11 29.4
UC Davis 381 13 29.3
FGCU 322 11 29.3
Oklahoma 351 12 29.3
Oklahoma St. 351 12 29.3
Arkansas 321 11 29.2
Oregon 321 11 29.2
South Dakota 321 11 29.2
Drake 291 10 29.1
Wisconsin 349 12 29.1
UC Santa Barbara 319 11 29.0
UNC Wilmington 376 13 28.9
Davidson 347 12 28.9
St. Francis Brooklyn 347 12 28.9
Wyoming 318 11 28.9
Northern Ariz. 288 10 28.8
UMES 258 9 28.7
Rice 315 11 28.6
Utah St. 315 11 28.6
Kansas 314 11 28.5
Idaho St. 228 8 28.5
Michigan 313 11 28.5
Pepperdine 341 12 28.4
USC Upstate 341 12 28.4
Vanderbilt 284 10 28.4
Dartmouth 255 9 28.3
La.-Monroe 170 6 28.3
St. Mary’s (CA) 255 9 28.3
La.-Lafayette 339 12 28.3
Western Caro. 395 14 28.2
SMU 338 12 28.2
Washington 281 10 28.1
Cal Poly 309 11 28.1
Northwestern 309 11 28.1
Ga. Southern 363 13 27.9
Stetson 334 12 27.8
Missouri St. 306 11 27.8
Ill.-Chicago 333 12 27.8
IPFW 387 14 27.6
Texas Tech 331 12 27.6
Wake Forest 331 12 27.6
Chicago St. 303 11 27.5
Nebraska 303 11 27.5
UCF 246 9 27.3
Morgan St. 272 10 27.2
Iowa 325 12 27.1
Air Force 297 11 27.0
Arizona St. 297 11 27.0
Sam Houston St. 297 11 27.0
UALR 297 11 27.0
UNC Asheville 297 11 27.0
Weber St. 162 6 27.0
N.C. A&T 322 12 26.8
Long Beach St. 321 12 26.8
Montana 214 8 26.8
Albany (NY) 294 11 26.7
William & Mary 267 10 26.7
Western Mich. 293 11 26.6
Citadel 344 13 26.5
Colgate 238 9 26.4
California 290 11 26.4
Texas A&M 290 11 26.4
UMass Lowell 290 11 26.4
Jacksonville St. 395 15 26.3
Western Ill. 316 12 26.3
UTEP 342 13 26.3
Alabama 289 11 26.3
West Virginia 315 12 26.3
San Diego 340 13 26.2
East Tenn. St. 313 12 26.1
Central Conn. St. 286 11 26.0
Tulane 311 12 25.9
Binghamton 258 10 25.8
Cleveland St. 309 12 25.8
Evansville 309 12 25.8
Murray St. 283 11 25.7
Providence 306 12 25.5
Harvard 280 11 25.5
Fresno St. 305 12 25.4
Massachusetts 279 11 25.4
Milwaukee 303 12 25.3
UAB 277 11 25.2
Boise St. 251 10 25.1
Notre Dame 299 12 24.9
Denver 274 11 24.9
Miami (OH) 224 9 24.9
Northern Colo. 199 8 24.9
Niagara 298 12 24.8
UConn 248 10 24.8
BYU 322 13 24.8
Butler 271 11 24.6
New Hampshire 246 10 24.6
Southeastern La. 246 10 24.6
LSU 221 9 24.6
Ark.-Pine Bluff 245 10 24.5
St. Bonaventure 294 12 24.5
Houston Baptist 292 12 24.3
Saint Joseph’s 243 10 24.3
Furman 266 11 24.2
Campbell 290 12 24.2
Alabama A&M 217 9 24.1
Incarnate Word 265 11 24.1
Southeast Mo. St. 264 11 24.0
Portland St. 191 8 23.9
Texas St. 285 12 23.8
Saint Francis (PA) 237 10 23.7
McNeese St. 260 11 23.6
Iona 212 9 23.6
Troy 259 11 23.5
Delaware 282 12 23.5
TCU 255 11 23.2
FIU 294 13 22.6
Gonzaga 271 12 22.6
Ohio St. 270 12 22.5
UCLA 247 11 22.5
James Madison 291 13 22.4
Canisius 268 12 22.3
Delaware St. 245 11 22.3
Miami (FL) 243 11 22.1
Cal St. Northridge 220 10 22.0
Drexel 220 10 22.0
Temple 219 10 21.9
Hofstra 197 9 21.9
Morehead St. 284 13 21.8
Charlotte 239 11 21.7
New Mexico 238 11 21.6
North Carolina St. 237 11 21.5
Utah 236 11 21.5
Iowa St. 171 8 21.4
Appalachian St. 235 11 21.4
Arkansas St. 213 10 21.3
Bethune-Cookman 318 15 21.2
Eastern Wash. 190 9 21.1
Bowling Green 209 10 20.9
Presbyterian 270 13 20.8
Rutgers 249 12 20.8
Grambling 122 6 20.3
Alabama St. 161 8 20.1
Stanford 219 11 19.9
Colorado St. 218 11 19.8
Marist 218 11 19.8
Syracuse 217 11 19.7
Austin Peay 256 13 19.7
UTSA 196 10 19.6
Coppin St. 215 11 19.5
IUPUI 272 14 19.4
Fordham 187 10 18.7
East Carolina 242 13 18.6
Texas Southern 204 11 18.5
Lamar 203 11 18.5
N.C. Central 166 9 18.4
Oakland 228 13 17.5
American 140 9 15.6
Grand Canyon 145 10 14.5

2 thoughts on “Army and Lafayette Push Substitutions Limit

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