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Four Factors of LSU’s Success

The analytics behind hoops’ early success

Maryland v LSU
Javonte helps.
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The men’s hoops team isn’t ranked, yet. But all of that will likely change if the Tigers can beat #18 Alabama tonight and Kentucky this weekend.

OK, Kentucky isn’t what they normally are this year, but there’s always value in beating a brand. Still, the critical matchup is tonight against Bama. LSU needs to prove it can hang with the current pace setters in the SEC. A win tonight would put LSU in a tie for first place.

So how did the team get here? For that, we turn to perhaps the best analytical tool in any sport: Ken Pomeroy’s Four Factors. Without getting too far into the math, Pomeroy rates teams based upon four key stats:

  • Effective FG%: A team’s FG%, but counting three point makes as worth more because, well, they are. This measures how well you can shoot.
  • Offensive rebounding percentage: The percentage of rebounds that are made on the offensive end. Defensive rebounds are nice, but offensive rebounds keep possessions alive and thus, are more valuable.
  • Turnover percentage: turnovers per possession. Yeah, don’t turn the ball over. That’s bad.
  • Free throw rate: FTA/FGA. Know who gets fouled a lot? Guys who get to the rim. While eFG% rates three-point shooters, this is the give back to teams who score on the interior. The best shot in basketball is still the layup.

LSU currently ranks 5th in the nation in KenPom Offensive Efficiency. That’s because the Tigers are an elite shooting team that can rebound and get to the rim. They have a positive turnover rate, but it’s nothing special. However, dominating three out of four factors is a good way to win games.

But let’s get in to some other team observations, running down the stat sheet.

Four Guys Can Score

LSU has four players averaging at least 10 points per game (actually, the lowest average of the four is Darius Days at 13.7). Cameron Thomas is the star who makes things go, but LSU can endure a bad night from a top contributor because it has so many options.

Even better, they score in different ways. Cameron Thomas has a Free Throw Rate of 45.3%. He drives to the lane and makes things happen like a playmaker should. Javonte Smart has a 62.5% eFG% thanks to his .459 shooting from behind the arc. He’s a lethal sharpshooter from behind the arc.

Trendon Watford splits the difference. He’s got a 55.7 eFG% and a 60.3% FTR. He doesn’t take a ton of threes, but he’s incredibly efficient when he does. Darius Days can also gun from outside (.404 3P%), but he generates offense by cleaning up the messes. He’s got a 12.1% Offensive Rebound Percentage which fuels a ridiculous 66.8 eFG%, thanks to taking a bunch of dunks and layups. He’s shooting .740 from inside the arc.

Rotational Depth

So LSU has the stars to power the team, but Wade also had options off the bench. Another four players average at least ten minutes per game, and Mwani Wilkinson averages 21.3. No, these guys aren’t lighting up the scoreboard, but they allow Wade to keep his top guys fresh for the key stretches of the game.

And you know, every so often, one of the bench guys has one of those games. Eric Gaines scored 10 against Ole Miss, going 2/3 beyond the arc. Charles Manning, now transferred to South Alabama, had 9 against A&M. Josh LeBlanc had 5 boards and 3 blocks against Ole Miss. Wilkinson scored 11 against Arkansas to go with 2 steals and 6 rebounds.

Hey, the margins count.

The Defense is Better Than It Looks

The downside to all this good news is that the defense ranks 107th in the KenPom. The things is, LSU actually is positive on three of four factors, but… my God to they get their clock cleaned on the defensive glass. Other teams have a 31.5% OR% against LSU.

This is bad in and of itself, but it feeds right into LSUs terrible 2 point FG defense, as teams shoot 52% from inside the arc against LSU. What’s encouraging is that LSU has one of the best three point defenses in the nation.

So essentially, what’s happening is that LSU is giving up too many offensive rebounds which leads to a lot of easy buckets. The thing is, LSU is a good rebounding team. They have an elite OR% on their end, only to allow their opponents to post an elite one as well. This is rectifiable. If you can rebound on the offensive glass, surely you can crash the defensive boards.

And cleaning up that cleans up LSU’s biggest defensive weakness. Everything gets better from there.

LSU does not profile as an elite team. Yet. But if they can clean it up a bit on the defensive glass, this is a squad that has all of the tools to make a deep tourney run. First though, is taking the SEC regular season lead. Go prove it.