Movable Dominance

This is the term used by John Gasaway to describe UNC in his most recent article at Basketball Prospectus concerning efficiency margins.

North Carolina, Conversely, Is Just Plain Scary

The Tar Heels have shown an ability that might be even more frightening to opponents than the earthling Jayhawks’ mere “offense” and “defense.” Roy Williams has a team that’s proven it can win while taking on different personalities. They’ve had to. Carolina did without point guard Ty Lawson for the better part of seven games in the heart of their season. The fact that Lawson’s absence put more of a dent in UNC’s per-possession numbers on offense than it did in their won-loss record speaks volumes. Without Lawson, Carolina’s scoring per possession dipped significantly but their efficiency margin experienced only the tiniest decline, thanks to a defense that picked up the slack. True, a negative read of the same facts would be that UNC plays better defense without Lawson. However, I think recent history suggests a different spin.

Like North Carolina this year, Florida last year was very good but certainly not preeminent in terms of EM. The Gators had kind of a movable dominance: I couldn’t have told you before the tournament last year how Billy Donovan’s team would excel, exactly, but everyone just assumed they would. (I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated that a team blessed with Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer would shoot, and make, a flurry of threes in their six tournament games.) By necessity, Carolina this year has shown that same kind of flexible hegemony: the Heels will simply do what it takes. No, they’re not the defending national champions, but sometimes they act like they are. I mean that in a good way–they have the proverbial swagger.

While I thought Gasaway was wrong about Love over Hansbrough and the stat heads at BP have produced some odd stats and rankings this season, this blurb here is a fairly accurate look at the Heels.  It should be noted that what he describes here, this innate ability to simply win games regardless of the circumstances or adversity can in no way be quantified with numbers.  The way this Tar Heel team carves out wins renders almost any odds you would attempt to place on them in the NCAA Tournament nearly worthless.   Odds like the 4% chance Ken Pomeroy is giving UNC for winning the title this season.

Gasaway is calling it swagger but given the fact the loss to Georgetown last season has been the major motivating factor since I think it is more than swagger being shown by the Heels, I think it is the hunger for redemption.  There is an insatiable desire among the players on this team to never, ever allow what happened against Georgetown to happen again this season.  For the most part it has worked save the losses to Maryland and Duke.  Outside of those this team simply cannot be counted out of any game.  They have too many weapons and too much flat out will to go down without exhausting every last ounce of effort in an attempt to win the game.

I know I am biased when I say this, but from my perspective there is no other team in the country that brings this kind of attitude to the floor.

8 Responses to Movable Dominance

  1. william says:

    I honestly think that they are having a computational problem. Look at last year’s ratings and they are non controversial. This year they have a whole slew of bizarre ratings from Tennessee, to Illinois to Kansas State. Duke and Wisconsin have basically the same record and Duke beat Wisconsin by 26 points and Pomeroy has Wisconsin rated ahead of Duke. Apparently, both of them missed the ACC Big Ten Challenge.

    Gasaway basically had to tell people in a column a couple a week sback or so, to ignore their efficiency ratings for Kansas State because they were clearly non-predictive.

    They won’t address it, but I have a feeling it has to do with something Adam Lucas said and this is that Pomeroy does not calculate possessions the same way that Dean Smith and Roy Williams do. Lucas said that while Carolina needed to improve on defense, that the coaches did not agree that their defense was as bad as Pomeroy claimed. The culprit? The Heels are one of the top rebounding teams in the country and the discrepancy might mean that they are actually better on defense and worse on offense than Pomeroy calculates them. Of course, he refuses to address this interesting topic, which is especially strange since Smith, through Frank McGuire and Clair Bee, is the one who popularized the whole notion of PPP analysis.

  2. Josh says:

    I agree. Even when we are down, I still feel like we are going to win. We have won so many games that we could have easily lost. We don’t give up. We have great coaching and terrific players.

  3. 52BigGameJames says:

    wow–that’s been my take all season william! they score so many dang points it’s been easy to overlook how unbalanced on offense they have been many times. the rebounding would certainly account for some of that “stat-fart”, lol.

    most of my “gripes” on this forum this year have not been about defense, as I’ve had the feeling all along that when they hit the Tourney, you’ll see the real Heels (ie-one of the top D’s in the nation), and Roy seemed to indicate that last week. I’ve been “net-pleading” for Marcus and Deon to become better offensive players, which is maybe a topic better shelved until next season. Between Ty’s re-emergence, Green & Ellington’s stepping up, and Quentin’s more consistent contributions, it may be enough to win a C this year….but think how potent we’d be if Marcus and Deon were to pick it up on O too! This is the fun part for me–I’m anxious to see how good this defense really is, as I believe we’ve only caught glimpses so far.

  4. Tar Heel Fan says:


    Ignoring the complaints is the only recourse they have. If they admit a computational mistake then it destroys their credibility since no one would ever trust the data again or know if what they are posting is correct or not.

  5. jackiemanuel says:

    I don’t know if anything is “wrong” per se. I think trying to find analytical ways to understand basketball is very difficult. A ton of variables with 10 people on the court, refs enforcing rules differently, and statisticians awarding stats differently. I think basketball prospectus offers us some great tools. You can’t just use Pomeroy ratings as the end all, just like we shouldn’t use RPI that way. I’ve been critical of John and Ken sometimes, but they are always very cordial in responding to my e-mails or blogging. I’m sure they will tweak the system every year as they try and learn about basketball analytically, but I don’t believe they believe their system is perfect.

  6. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Which is my point as it relates to this Tar Heel teams ability to win games in different modes and with different players failing to show up. That cannot be captured by the numbers because I am not even sure how to describe what happened in beating Clemson the first two times, Virginia, BC, Florida State the first time and so on and so forth.

  7. william says:

    Jackie, I honestly can affirm that Pomeroy is not biased in any way against Carolina. I am simply frustrated because I want to understand what makes a basketball team successful–any team–and I feel that somehow they have taken a step back and I just wish they could address this. I have sent both Gasaway and Pomeroy, the article by Adam Lucas disputing the way they calculate possessions but they have not addressed this. Gasaway replied, but said that it was Ken’s area.

    One thing that I do think that is important, THF, is to define what it means to be the best team. When you have to win 6 games in a row, a team’s consistency rating may actually be more important in the NCAA tourney than its actual strength overall. This is because it is one and you are out. In the NBA, strength is everything because it is best of 7.

    Thus, when a pollster ranks teams, what is he or she attempting to do? Are they attempting to predict who will win the title at the end of the year, or are they simply stating who the most powerful team is, i.e., the team that would win a best of 7 series. Sometimes, there will be no difference between the two, but we probably have all seen teams that are amazingly talented but for some reason, highly variable or inconsistent. Marquette, perhaps, was like that about five years ago when they went from winning big to losing big in the tourney.

    Anyway, it is not clear to me whether Pomeroy incorporated the consistency variable when he did his log calculations(and this is without even addressing whether his log calculations are a valid extension of the Bill James original idea).

    Kansas may be the strongest team overall, but they are only the 203rd most consistent team in the country. Carolina and Memphis, by contrast, are the only 2 teams in the Pomeroy top 20 who are among the top 50 in consistency.

  8. […] davidely wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe Tar Heels have shown an ability that might be even more frightening to opponents than the earthling Jayhawks’ mere “offense” and “defense.” Roy Williams has a team that’s proven it can win while taking on different personalities. … […]

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