Bruce Weber and Tempo

When it became clear that Frank Martin's departure for South Carolina wasn't just some awful nightmare or a ridiculous rumor started by Kellis Robinett, one silver lining popped into my mind almost immediately.

If we couldn't have Frank, maybe we could at least have a coach whose teams would run a faster-paced, smoother, and (in my humble opinion) more fun-to-watch version of basketball.

I'm not trying to say I don't appreciate good defense, and in fact I found last night's Miami-OKC battle so fascinating because both teams were making it so hard for the other to find good shots most of the night.

But I would rather have free-flowing offense, and I'll admit I did often get fed up with all of the fouls committed by KSU and its opponents, particularly when K-State was losing and missing free throws.

With all that in mind, it probably goes without saying that I wasn't exactly thrilled when the ‘Cats hired a losing coach from the Big Ten, where uptempo, free-flowing offense is about as common as skiing in Kansas.

If you've read many of my previous posts, you'll know this is the main reason I hate the Big Ten with a passion and truly believe Bo Ryan has set college basketball back some five to 10 years.

Since I am fortunate enough to still have 20/20 vision and would like to keep it that way, I don't watch a lot of Big Ten basketball, and it follows that I haven't seen Illinois play a lot. But two Fighting Illini games stick out vividly in my memory and serve as good anecdotes before we get into the statistical analysis portion of this post.

The first, I was thankful to re-discover while researching, actually came in the Bill Self years in 2001, when No. 1 seed Illinois took on Arizona in the Elite 8. I remember being absolutely appalled that six (!) players on a top team could foul out in a regulation basketball game, and eternally grateful that the Wildcats narrowly escaped with a win.

The other game was one that I was just thankful that I did not witness a minute of, but when I saw the final score on the ESPN bottom line I am quite sure I did not believe it.

That was, of course, No. 16 Illinois's 38-33 home loss to Penn State in 2009, in which both teams managed to take 50 shots or less, shoot no better than 30% from the field, and commit 13 turnovers. I refuse to even link to the box score.

So, as I will prove definitively from the stats after the jump, Illinois under Bruce Weber certainly was not more uptempo than what we saw in the Frank era. But at least his players haven't been heavy foulers.

That's something, right?

There's simply no better place to begin a discussion about tempo than with KenPom Adjusted Tempo rankings. If you want the full explanation, go here, but basically Adjusted Tempo is the number of possessions a team has per game plus some adjustments based on the schedule.

Since we're talking about an adjusted number, I think the rankings are significantly more important than the actual numbers of possessions here.

Generally the differences between Weber and Martin teams were only one or two possessions, which doesn't seem like much, but I think you'll see later it has a significant impact on a team's offensive output.

So, here are the are rankings for Illinois and KSU dating back to the 2003-04 season, which was Weber's first year.

I felt it was interesting just for comparison's sake to include K-State every year, so the Jim Wooldridge years are denoted with an *, and the Bob Huggins year is denoted with an ^, only because a middle finger wasn't available.

Year Illinois K-State
'03-'04* 273 194
'04-05* 251 264
'05-06* 278 255
'06-07^ 301 174
'07-08 312 31
'08-'09 270 88
'09-'10 144 47
'10-'11 180 100
'11-'12 204 114

It's very clear here that Weber-ball is quite a bit slower than what we're used to, but I think there are also some other interesting takeaways as well.

Note how the tempo of the Martin teams varies significantly and could essentially be ranked in terms of the talent of its top players, with the Beasley/Walker team that could get a shot whenever it wanted at #1, followed by the glorious Pullen/Clemente teams.

Meanwhile, even the early Weber teams with dynamite players like (Bill Self recruits) Dee Brown and Deron Williams played at a relatively plodding pace.

This might be fine if Weber could recruit and develop players who thrive in that sort of style, but considering player development seems to be his Achilles' heel, it raises a bit of a red flag to me.

For that 2009 team that had the best ranking, leading scorer Demetri McCamey was good but never spectacular, except in the first half against a very good Missouri team. That team certainly wasn't particularly efficient on offense, and it wound up 19-14 and playing a first round NIT game at Stony Brook because of Cirque de Soleil (seriously).

As much as I hate the Wisconsin offense, there's no denying that when the Badgers are playing well, it is extremely efficient. With apologies to Bill C. at RMN, I refuse to post all of KenPom's adjusted efficiency numbers, since KenPom's system rated Wisconsin fifth in the country this season.

I will, however, note that Weber's first two teams at Illinois were both in the top six in offensive efficiency, and while they weren't in the top 100 this year, the Illini were still ranked 33rd in a 2010-11 season that was mediocre by most measures. Comparatively, the '09-10 'Cats were 13th, while this year's team was 53rd.

I would like to take a quick look at the ppg and effective FG% numbers of the two teams over during the Weber era at Illinois.

Year Illinois K-State
'03-'04* 72.8/52.7% 69.4/48.4%
'04-'05* 77/55.9% 69.1/49%
'05-'06* 70/52.2% 68.3/52.2%
'06-'07^ 64.1/49.7% 70.5/48.6%
'07-'08 63.6/48.7% 78/49.3%
'08-'09 64.8/51.1% 75.2/49.3%
'09-'10 70.8/50.1% 79.7/50.8%
'10-'11 71/52.9% 72.9/49.9%
'11-12 65.6/49.4% 71/48.9%

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from these statistics, even though they obviously don't tell the whole story because of rebounds, turnovers, etc. The numbers leave little doubt that Weber's slowed-down offenses yield better shots, but at what cost?

Casting aside my aesthetic qualms for a moment, it's still rather obvious that when you're shooting less and scoring less, you have a much smaller margin for error.

Each possession and each shot becomes more important, and while that works when your offense is being run by a Deron Williams with Dee Brown as a shooting guard, it can also lead to the extremely problematic mid-60s scoring averages, which occurred in two of the three NIT or worse years during the Weber era.

It's also quite interesting to note that despite a considerably worse eFG%, Kansas State averaged better than 10 points more per game than Illinois during the '08-'09 season. That was, of course, one of the years that the discrepancy between the two teams' tempo ratings was the greatest.

Finally, we can't talk tempo in basketball without talking fouls, as we're all far too aware how much endless free throws can slow down a game and disrupt the rhythm of a team.

As you look at these foul-per-game numbers, keep in mind that very few teams, if any, match the admirable but at times out-of-control tenacity of a Frank-coached team, and it's probably true that Big Ten refs don't like the sound of their whistles as much as the ones in the Big 12.

The first number is fouls committed, while the second number is fouls drawn per game.

Year Illinois K-State
'03-04* 18.8/16.4 18.5/19.1
'04-05* 15.7/15.3 16.6/19
'05-06* 17.7/16.8 17.7/18.6
'06-07^ 17.2/17.7 18.6/20.7
'07-08 18.4/18.3 20.2/20.4
'08-'09 15.3/14.5 20.9/21.9
'09-'10 17/16.8 22.4/24.2
'10-'11 17.6/16.2 20.4/21.8
'11-'12 17.7/17.1 20.1/22.2

Really, this is almost all positive for me, but I think the part I like the most is that Weber's best team was (nearly) the one that fouled the least. The exact opposite is true for Frank.

If there's one concern I have, it's that in several seasons the Illini committed more fouls than they drew, which could signify a lack of aggressiveness.

That's one way all of the talent K-State has right now could go to waste, as there are a lot of players on this team that get much worse when they start settling for jump shots and stop attacking the basket.

On the plus side, if we can really get 5-10 fewer whistles per game, I figure that should save us some five minutes every night. What are we going to do with all of that extra time in our lives?

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