UAAP 82 Finals: Advanced stats point to an Ateneo championship

Enzo Flojo on Nov 20, 2019 06:48 AM
UAAP 82 Finals: Advanced stats point to an Ateneo title
Coach Tab Baldwin and the Ateneo Blue Eagles are dominating even the advanced statistics in the UAAP Season 82 Men's Basketball Tournament.

The Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles look poised to annex their third straight UAAP Men's Basketball title, going 15-0 entering Game 2 of the UAAP Season 82 Men's Basketball Finals. 

The UST Growling Tigers, however, are still very much alive and kicking, having won three of their last four games in the Final Four and raring to spring a huge Game 2 upset to force a titular decider against the defending champions. 

Before all the hostilities commence at the Mall of Asia Arena, though, let's dive into the numbers and see which side is favored to prevail based on each team's statistics throughout the season.

Take note that we won't go over Ateneo's and UST's basic stats -- that's been covered ad nauseam, but instead, we'll dig even deeper and look at some advanced metrics and analytics to determine just how close (or how far apart) the Blue & White are from their Black & Gold counterparts.

In the spirit of advanced basketball statistics, we'll be using numbers not on a per game basis but rather on a per 100 possessions standard. This is because each team plays at a different pace (in layman's terms, some play fast -- more possessions per game -- and some play slow -- fewer possessions per game), and pace can either bloat or contract a team's per game stats. By breaking the numbers down by possession (and then using a x100 multiplier for scale), we should get a much more accurate data set to tell the tale of how Ateneo and UST really stack against each other. 

To begin, keep in mind that Ateneo has 76.9 offensive possessions and 73.6 defensive possessions per game. On average, the Eagles have an overall pace of 75.3 possessions per game, which is the lowest among all eight teams. That basically means that the Eagles have played with the slowest pace in Season 82, which is why they don't lead the league in a couple of per game statistics like scoring and rebounding when, in fact, they are the best at both departments on a per possession basis.

In the meantime, UST has 81.8 offensive possessions and 77.5 defensive possessions per game, combining for an overall pace of 79.7 possessions per game, which is actually 3rd lowest or 6th overall. That means that contrary to popular belief, UST actually doesn't play with the "fastest pace" (that distinction belongs to NU with an overall pace of 83.7 possessions per contest). The Tigers, in actuality, play a more deliberate style than the casual fan may think, and that "mirage," so to speak, has been one of their "secrets to success" in Season 82. 

And now to the numbers:

Ateneo de Manila scores 101.1 points per 100 possessions (we can simplify this by shortening "per 100 possessions" to "per hundred" or "ph") or 101.1pph. They also allow just 82.4 pph from their opponents for a total net rating of +18.7. Ateneo scores 18.7 more points than their foes per 100 possessions, which is by far, the very best in the UAAP. A far second is FEU at a net rating of +5.2, while UST's net rating is -0.4. 

Why is Ateneo so good at scoring? Well, much of it is because of their ball movement and the fact that they can hurt opponents in so many ways. The reigning champions top the league with 22.2 assists per hundred (aph), while UST isn't too far behind with 19.9 aph (3rd). The Blue Eagles, however, also lead the entire UAAP in inside scoring (49.7 pph), 2nd chance scoring (24.2 pph), fast break scoring (16.8 pph), and scoring off turnovers (28.7 pph). The lone scoring method where Ateneo is average is in perimeter scoring, where UST is, in fact, the best at 48.0 pph, which is mainly because the Tigers actually hit the highest number of threes with 13.4 triples per hundred.

And speaking of threes, UST has gotten a bit of a bad rap as a volume scoring team because in terms of basic stats, the Tigers are shooting just 37.1% from field, which is good for second to the last place, but if we use advanced statistics, in particular what basketball data analysts call Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), UST is shooting much better. The eFG%, you see, takes into account the "added value" of a three-point shot compared to a regular two-point field goal. Whereas the regular FG% assigns equal values to a two-pointer and a three-pointer, the eFG%, actually balances things out in a much more realistic way. 

In terms of eFG%, UST is shooting 44.5% from the field (a big jump from their oversimplified 37.1 FG%). That is actually second to -- you guessed it -- Ateneo, which has an eFG% of 46.1%. This means that the Eagles and Tigers are actually not so far apart in terms of shooting accuracy. 

On the defensive end, it's Ateneo which again has the clear edge. The Blue Eagles' swarming defense has produced 8.5 steals, 9.3 blocks, and 27.1 forced turnovers per 100 defensive possessions (all tops in the league). Coach Tab Baldwin's crew, in fact, forces its opponents to turn the ball over 25.9% of the time. To simplify, Ateneo's opponents commit a turnover once in every four possessions. How can anyone beat Ateneo by being so "careless" with the basketball, right?

UST, on the other hand, is such a dominant defensive rebounding team. In basic rebounding stats, UST is third overall in defensive rebounding with 31.9 rpg behind FEU (33.5 rpg) and DLSU (32.8 rpg), but in reality, on a per possession basis, UST is actually the best defensive rebounding team in the UAAP. The Tigers grab 41.2 defensive boards per 100 possessions, which is higher than the numbers for FEU, DLSU, and even Ateneo. We can even use the more accurate stat called Defensive Rebounding Percentage (DRB%), which tells us how well a team grabs defensive rebounds and prevents its opponents from getting second chance opportunities. UST's DRB% is 69.4%, which means the Tigers grab the defensive rebound, therefore ending their opponents' offensive possession, roughly 70% of the time their foes miss a shot. 

So at the end of the day, what do all these dizzying numbers mean? 

Based on these more advanced and nuanced (and therefore more accurate) stats, we shouldn't really be surprised that UST is in the Finals against Ateneo. UST, as the advanced basketball analytics reveals, deserves to contend for the title. Having said that, however, it's also clear that the Blue Eagles have so far clearly been a cut above the rest, and should they stay true to form -- efficiently scoring and effectively defending -- the champions should eventually reach the summit of college basketball for the third year in a row.

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