On Quinnipiac And Rebound Margin (Which Is Still Alive Somehow)

On the front page of their media notes (and game program), Quinnipiac proclaims – with statistical evidence attached – that it leads the nation in rebounds per game and rebounding margin, while it ranks second in offensive rebounds per game.

Furthermore, if you read on, since 2010-11 the Bobcats haven’t finished lower than fourth in any of those three categories, impressively leading the nation in all three last season. In fact, of 350 or so Division I teams, little old Quinnipiac is tops two years running in rebounding and three in offensive boards per game.

(photo courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics)
Thanks to efforts such as senior Ousmane Drame’s, Quinnipiac ranks high in rebounding margin – a possibly outdated statistic. (photo courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics)

You’d put that on the front of your media notes, too, wouldn’t you? There is no deception in the numbers, not even embellishment or the spin that much of the PR world feeds on all the way to the center of Washington, D.C. Just the facts, ma’am (or sir).

However, as noted college basketball fan Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts. There are only interpretations.”

Before we go any further, you have to read John Gasaway’s “Rebound Margin Must Die” article, in which he explains, well, why conventional rebound margin must die.

I think, as a generally non-violent person, death is a little extreme, but as Gasaway points out more elegantly than I can, we probably have better ways to go about this. To me, the pure amount of rebounds is easily dismissed, as obviously a team that takes (and concedes) more shot opportunities will lead to more rebounds for both teams. When VMI – who routinely fields one of the smallest teams in Division I, but has been in the top 10 in tempo for nine straight seasons under Duggar Baucom – starts showing up in national rebounding leaders, I officially call shenanigans.

The other two have at least some merit. Getting more rebounds than the other team is obviously more advantageous than not in trying to win a basketball game. As is rebounding your own misses, extending possessions, frustrating opposing coaches to no end, and the best chance statistically to make a three-pointer on a kick out.

But as Gasaway points out, offensive and defensive rebounding statistics should be treated as separate fruits. While, unfortunately, you won’t read about it in the lamestream media, Quinnipiac does pretty darn well in those numbers, too. Offensive rebounding percentage national ranks dating back to 2009: 4, 4, 4, 1, 3, 1, and 3 this year (behind Kentucky and Baylor). That’s remarkable.

While not quite as prolific, the rebounding numbers at the other end aren’t too shabby. Since 2010: 38, 10, 34, 7, 18, and 16 this season. Quinnipiac is clearly one of the best rebounding teams in the nation by most reasonable statistical computing.

But that leads to the next question, of course, why don’t the Bobcats win more? In 2012-13, Quinnipiac was third and seventh nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding %, but finished 15-16 against the 283rd toughest schedule in D-1. A closer dissection of the numbers shows the Bobcats didn’t do much to cause opponents to turn the ball over, finishing 335th in defensive turnover margin (15.7%) and 345th in steal % (6.0). Add that to a 265th rank in eFG% (46.5), and you start to see a picture of why the rebounding didn’t necessarily translate into victories.

In fact, those three statistics have been consistent problems for the Bobcats.

Since 2011, eFG% national ranks: 253rd, 282nd, 265th, 281st, and 318th this season.

Defensive turnover margin: 235th, 260th, 335th, 351st (and dead last), and 351st this season (again, dead last).

Steal %: 313th, 295th, 345th, 351st, and 351st.

And this is where the advanced numbers start to break down slightly, especially when it comes to coaching philosophy. Quinnipiac prides itself on rebounding, but to do so tends to take away from other areas, like forcing turnovers, which involves taking chances that Tom Moore and his staff just don’t like to take. By the same token, teams like American (and other teams that run Princeton/Pete Carill stuff) don’t believe in attacking the offensive glass because they feel it leaves them susceptible at the other end and may cause tempo to go faster than they want.

When Air Force went on an amazing run of winning 68 games from 2005-2007, it never finished higher than 322nd in offensive rebounding %. But it was great in eFG% (21, 1, and 2), and rarely turned the ball over.

Quinnipiac actually dropped from first to third in offensive rebounding % in the last two games, but part of that was an excellent offensive performance in beating Maine last week. The Bobcats went 32-of-63 from the field (and 58.7% eFG) and “only” rebounded 11 of their 31 misses (34.7%). But with the way its offense produced, there wasn’t the same urgency to attack the offensive glass.

“We always ask at the time outs, what is the other team shooting and what’s our rebounding margin,” Moore said. “We were low on the offensive glass, but a lot of that is that because the ball went in.”

Friday’s game with Saint Peter’s was a different story. The Peacocks, a good rebounding team in their own right, kept the Bobcats off the offensive glass for most of the day, until trying to mount a massive comeback, Quinnipiac got desperate and put up 10 offensive boards in the final 12 minutes of the game to get to 16 (still only 38.1% in a fairly fast game). Saint Peter’s sent Quinnipiac to 0-3 in the MAAC on an afternoon that the Bobcats needed some of their original shots to just go in.

To sum up, Quinnipiac is not unique, especially among mid-majors, in having extreme strengths and extreme weaknesses (as I wrote about Lafayette earlier in the week, who is pretty much the antithesis of the Bobcats right now).  It’s part of the reason why we love college basketball, there are 351 Division I teams and almost as many approaches on how to get where you want to go. When different styles clash, it can often make for an amazing, entertaining spectacle. And there shouldn’t be much doubt Quinnipiac deserves to be lauded for their rebounding prowess (“offensive glass-eating Bobcats, I salute you!”).

But they’ll likely have to improve some of those other numbers to win many games in the MAAC. As they showed against Oregon State, they’re capable, and the KenPom computers still have them projected to win nine of their final 17 MAAC games, and I think they can actually do better than that with arguably the best non-Iona player in the league in Zaid Hearst.

There is precedent. Moore’s 2009-10 team that won the NEC regular season (and probably should have made the NCAAs) led by Justin Rutty and James Johnson weren’t great in the three categories that haunt Quinnipiac, but were able to climb to 193rd in eFG%, 158th in defensive turnover rate, and 130th in steal %. And I believe anyone writing off the Bobcats in the MAAC will do so at their own peril (although they are staring at an 0-5 start with Iona and Monmouth next).

If you’re at Big Apple Buckets, you’re probably a member of the advanced data choir, and if you are, I’m sorry. But more than five years after people like Gasaway put a bounty on the head of conventional rebounding statistics, they live on. Hopefully not for much longer.

And then you can interpret for yourself.

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