Husky Plus-Minus

Using the play-by-play data available on stats.ncaa.org, I have manually calculated the plus-minus numbers for the Washington Huskies for every game save the win at Utah, during which the play-by-play was too error-riddled to be reliable. (For example, a number of substitutions where players checked out but weren’t replaced by anyone. For other errors I was able to recreate the lineups by looking at who made plays, but in this case there were too many to reconstruct everything with a reasonable degree of accuracy.)

Please take these numbers for what they are worth. As Ken Pomeroy explained well, plus-minus can be dangerous. In addition to the usual issues (small sample sizes, that we’re only comparing players to their replacements), at the college level there are unique problems with the quality of opposition. A player who sees most of his action against inferior opponents will look better than he should, and so on. Those caveats aside, I think there’s some value, especially in terms of evaluating combinations of players, as we will later.

Let’s start with overall performance:

Player     Min    UW    Opp   Net    P40   OP40    Net
------------------------------------------------------
Gaddy     521.3  1061   953   108   81.4   73.1    8.3
Ross      481.6   942   842   100   78.2   69.9    8.3
Wilcox    472.6   951   909    42   80.5   76.9    3.6
Wroten    453.6   919   866    53   81.0   76.4    4.7
Gant      357.4   724   607   117   81.0   67.9   13.1
Simmons   338.5   672   635    37   79.4   75.0    4.4
N'Diaye   333.9   681   596    85   81.6   71.4   10.2
Breunig   106.1   218   239   -21   82.2   90.1   -7.9
Kemp       87.3   135   170   -35   61.9   77.9  -16.0
Stewart    67.7   133   128     5   78.5   75.6    3.0
Sherrer    13.0    18    27    -9   55.3   83.0  -27.7
Wegner     11.8    16    23    -7   54.2   78.0  -23.7

In case you aren’t familiar with all these numbers, I’ll walk you through Abdul Gaddy‘s line. Gaddy has played 521.3 minutes, most on the team, and with him on the floor Washington has outscored the opposition 1061-953. What we’re most interested in are numbers per 40 minutes of playing time. If Gaddy was out there for an entire game, with identical lineups, we’d expect the Huskies to win 81.4 to 73.1 for an 8.3 margin.

That Gaddy and Terrence Ross are similar makes sense, since both have been on the floor much of the time. The veteran bigs have better numbers because of their weaker replacements. Washington has been outscored with freshmen big men Martin Breunig and Shawn Kemp, Jr. on the floor. As for Tony Wroten and C.J. Wilcox … well, let’s take a look at the next cut, which is ratings by position

PG         Min     P40   OP40  Net40
------------------------------------
Gaddy     521.3   81.4   73.1    8.3
Wroten    123.1   72.5   77.6   -5.2
Stewart     4.5   88.6   62.0   26.6

SG         Min     P40   OP40  Net40
------------------------------------
Wroten    318.4   83.3   75.5    7.8
Wilcox    261.2   77.0   71.7    5.4
Stewart    63.2   77.8   76.6    1.3
Ross        3.1   25.9   64.9  -38.9
Wegner      3.1   39.1   52.2  -13.0

SF         Min     P40   OP40  Net40
------------------------------------
Ross      410.4   77.4   68.1    9.3
Wilcox    210.1   84.7   83.2    1.5
Wroten     12.1  109.1   86.0   23.1
Wegner      8.7   59.5   87.0  -27.5
Simmons     7.7   47.0   93.9  -47.0

PF         Min     P40   OP40  Net40
------------------------------------
Simmons   311.9   80.5   75.3    5.3
Gant      185.6   78.5   64.2   14.2
Breunig    69.5   79.4   80.6   -1.2
Ross       68.2   85.7   81.0    4.7
Sherrer    10.2   51.1   90.5  -39.3
Kemp        2.4   33.1  149.0 -115.9
Wilcox      1.3   96.0  128.0  -32.0

C          Min     P40   OP40  Net40
------------------------------------
N'Diaye   333.9   81.6   71.4   10.2
Gant      171.9   83.8   71.9   11.9
Kemp       84.9   62.7   75.9  -13.2
Breunig    36.6   87.5  108.2  -20.8
Simmons    18.9   74.0   63.4   10.6
Sherrer     2.9   70.2   56.1   14.0

.A few things stand out here. First, Wroten has been ineffective at point guard this season. At shooting guard, he’s been the team’s best option, though partially for a reason that we’ll see in a second. The Huskies have been much better with Ross at small forward than Wilcox. And these numbers reinforce how much better Washington is with the veteran bigs on the floor. In particular, Breunig should never play center. When he’s in the middle, the Huskies have surrendered points at a preposterous rate. It’s just not fair to ask Breunig to serve as the team’s primary help defender at this stage of his development.

Instead of looking at lineups, most of which have played few minutes together (just one — Gaddy/Wilcox/Ross/Gant/N’Diaye — has played more than 42 minutes total), I prefer looking at combinations on the perimeter and in the post.

PG        SG        SF         Min     P40   OP40   Net40
---------------------------------------------------------
Gaddy     Wroten    Wilcox    182.5   88.8   83.1     5.7
Gaddy     Wilcox    Ross      155.4   77.5   65.4    12.1
Gaddy     Wroten    Ross      135.9   75.9   65.3    10.6
Wroten    Wilcox    Ross      101.0   75.6   78.8    -3.2

Wilcox at shooting guard looks much better when we take away the minutes he’s played next to Wroten. In fact, Gaddy/Wilcox/Ross has been the Huskies’ strongest trio. However, Gaddy/Wroten/Ross isn’t noticeably worse. With Wilcox’s status in question because of a stress fracture in his left femur, this group will get plenty of work in the next few games. Intriguingly, all the combinations of Gaddy/Wroten/Ross with Hikeem Stewart have been positive, offering some hope Washington can survive Wilcox’s absence.

PF        C          Min     P40   OP40   Net40
-----------------------------------------------
Gant      N'Diaye   168.5   78.8   66.5    12.3
Simmons   N'Diaye   123.0   83.0   69.6    13.3
Simmons   Gant      121.5   83.0   70.5    12.5
Ross      Gant       36.8   89.2   78.3    10.9
Simmons   Kemp       35.9   55.8   79.2   -23.4
Breunig   N'Diaye    31.1   88.7   86.1     2.6
Simmons   Breunig    30.2   91.5  114.0   -22.5
Breunig   Kemp       24.8   64.5   85.4   -21.0

Now, this point is interesting and probably wouldn’t have occurred to me without tracking plus-minus. You may have noticed earlier than Desmond Simmons rates much worse overall than Darnell Gant and Aziz N’Diaye. However, all three combinations of these three players have been about identical. Simmons rates so much worse because lineups featuring him and another freshman (either Breunig or Kemp) have struggled badly. In more limited minutes, Breunig and Kemp have performed better next to either Gant or N’Diaye.

Basically, Lorenzo Romar ought to make sure one of Gant or N’Diaye is on the floor at all times. Lately, Romar has used a three-post rotation after halftime, with one of the freshmen getting spot minutes during the first half. That has worked poorly with Breunig, who is a raw -12 in conference play and visibly looks overmatched against more experienced competition. That action would be better going to Kemp or possibly even Austin Seferian-Jenkins once Washington’s star tight end is up to speed on the basketball playbook.

One last note on the second half of Sunday’s Apple Cup win over Washington State: Gaddy/Wroten/Ross/Gant/N’Diaye (the team’s best regular lineup this season, at +31.6 points per 40 minutes) played together for 13 minutes, outscoring the Cougars by 14 points in that span. That long run was unlike anything we’ve seen this season; before then, only once all year had a lineup gone for more than six minutes at a time (that at the end of the loss to South Dakota State).

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