With the Gophers set to play in the NIT championship on Thursday, I thought I’d share some insight that I gathered while talking with Gophers coach Richard Pitino recently.
I had heard that Pitino and his staff keep track of a detailed set of statistics. I’m interested in how basketball continues to evolve in terms of statistical analysis. It’s not at the level of baseball obviously, but more coaches and teams – in college and NBA – are using advanced statistics as a resource tool.
Pitino said he strives to find a balance between relying on statistics and having a coach’s feel for the game.
“I like a lot of the stats because it can illustrate a point,” he said. “But I do think people have gotten carried away with it a little bit too much in general. I think people who don’t have a great feel often just throw you stats and they don’t quite understand what they’re talking about.”
Here’s some background on Pitino’s philosophy on statistics:
In any game, Pitino has six assistant coaches/student assistants who track specific statistical categories.
“They’ve got to do something,” he joked. “They’re all getting paid. They can’t just sit there with a nice suit on. We’ve got to put them to work.”
The statistical categories they chart include: Offensive sets, defense, deflections, how many times they get three defensive stops in a row, transition opportunities, second-chance points, loose balls, charges, blow-byes, challenged shots, post touches and missed screens.
Assistant coach Kimani Young keeps track of the hustle board during games. He charts deflections, loose balls, charges, post touches. During timeouts, he stands next to Pitino and holds the board for everyone to see.
“I constantly reference it like, ‘We don’t have enough deflections. Or they’re beating us in loose balls. Or we’re allowing the ball into the paint too much,’” Pitino said.
One assistant is in charge of offensive sets. Pitino explained how the process works, using a Michigan game as an example.
“In the Michigan game, we ran 23 plays,” he said. “Our motion, our pick-and-roll motion was 5-for-9. So throughout the course of a game, they’ll tell me, ‘Hey, motion is working or fist is working. Or [certain play] isn’t working. That stat is very good for me.”
Another assistant is in charge of charting the different defenses and presses that they use. The coaches write all their stats on a large dry-erase board in the locker room at halftime.
“We go into the locker room at halftime and on the board is, What are we on the break?” he said. “Every single offensive set that we’ve run and if it is working. Deflections, charges, blow-byes, loose balls, all those things we have up on the board.”
Pitino also gets updates on what offensive set or defensive call is most effective during every timeout. He already has a feel for what’s working best in any particular game, but he said statistics can help illustrate or reinforce a point.
Pitino said two statistics that he considers particularly meaningful are loose balls and deflections.
“Moving forward as we build a team, we want a team that’s going to be able to harass the ball and get deflections,” he said. “That takes time and recruiting the right type of guy for it.”
Pitino’s father has always viewed deflections as a vital statistic throughout his career. Richard said he adopted some of Billy Donovan’s favorite statistics from his time at Florida. He borrowed the “three stops in a row” idea from Tom Crean.
“I think there is a fine balance between relying on [statistics] too much and not having feel,” Pitino said. “A lot of coaches want their assistants to, ‘Don’t worry about stats, just pay attention to the flow of the game.’ And certainly I want my guys to do that. But I do think statistically throughout the course of the game, you can illustrate things to the team that they can understand. Everything that we do with these long seasons, you’re just trying to find a different way to tell them and show them something that they should already know.”