The Empire will be running a series called “Statistically Speaking,” where we touch on different topics with a specific spin towards statistics.
The Saint Joseph's Hawks, after winning their first two games of the season, traveled to the Virgin Islands to take part in the Paradise Jam. After winning the opener, they lost to Ole Miss in the semifinals and proceeded to drop the third place game to NC State. Their record now sits at 3-2.
Last year, the Hawks participated in the Hall of Fame Tip-off preseason tournament. After falling in the semifinals of the tournament to Florida, the Hawks squeaked by Old Dominion for their fourth win of the season. If it weren’t for Shavar Newkirk's last second jump shot, the Hawks and the Monarchs would have gone to overtime. Had the Hawks lost that game, they would have opened their season 3-2, much like this year's team.
But they didn't. They won. So the Hawks began 4-1 before falling to the then eighth-ranked Villanova.
If St. Joe's can defeat Temple this Wednesday, they will have opened both this season and last season with a 4-2 record. According to KenPom.com, the Hawks are scoring about as efficiently so far as they did at the beginning of last season. Their defense has been about as equally efficient as well.
One major difference this year is that St. Joe's is playing at a slower pace. Although they’re averaging just two less possessions per 40 minutes, that’s enough for more than 100 NCAA teams to pass them in the rankings.
Another big difference is Luck Factor. Last year’s 4-2 start statistically outperformed their expected start than this year's 3-2 start by small margin. KenPom’s Pythagorean Rating is the expected winning percentage of a team against a perfectly average Division I team on a neutral court. This number is based off of Bill James’s Pythagorean Win Expectation formula, but adjusted for college basketball. The Luck Factor is simply the deviation of a team’s actual win percentage from the Pythagorean Rating.
Last season, the Hawks won 67% of their first six games, but their statistics apparently claimed that they were playing like a team with a .544 winning percentage at the time. This season, the Hawks have won 60% of their first five games, but based on their statistics, this team is instead playing like a team with a .566 winning percentage.
What can we take from this? Not too much, honestly. But what we can take from this is the idea that last year’s team didn’t look any better through their first six games than this year’s team looks through their first five. In fact, KenPom’s Pythagorean Rating claims that this year's team has actually played slightly better. Statistically speaking, the 2016-17 squad is so far playing like a team that would claim two more wins per 100 games played than last year's team would at this point in the season.
Their strength of schedules to this point rank similarly as well. Although this year’s Hawks have faced lesser defenses than last year’s Hawks, they’ve also faced stronger offenses.
Roster-wise there are some major differences as well. St. Joe's lost DeAndre’ Bembry, 2016 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, to the NBA draft following last season. They also lost Isaiah Miles, the Atlantic 10’s Most Improved Player last year.
“We knew going into last year that we had a superstar [in DeAndre’ Bembry],” head coach Phil Martelli said before the season. “We watched [Isaiah Miles] develop in front of our eyes. We had older guys. Papa Ndao was a sixth year player. Aaron Brown was a fifth year player.”
The team did return Lamarr Kimble, who made last year's All-Rookie Team. Although he’s not quite yet on the level of stardom that Bembry was, he's a star for sure. We’re also watching a player develop in front of our eyes similarly to the way that Miles did. Shavar Newkirk is averaging 21.8 points, 3.8 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game thus far. He’s shooting 53.6% from the floor and 41.2% from long range. His contributions have far exceeded expectations and have played a major factor in St. Joe’s success.
This past preseason, the Hawks were picked to finish ninth in the Atlantic 10. Being underestimated and proving naysayers wrong is not something Martelli’s team is unfamiliar with though.
Prior to last season, St. Joe’s was picked to finish seventh in the conference preseason poll. They wound up taking fourth place in the regular season, but made a favorable case that they were the best team in the league by the end, highlighted by an Atlantic 10 championship.
While it's easy to say this year’s Hawks just simply aren’t what they were last year, first take time to recognize that last year didn't start to differently. Even more trivial events like barely escaping a team St. Joe’s should’ve blown out in the season opener seem to be recurring. However, despite this, there's no doubt that Phil Martelli’s Hawks are heading in the right direction.
Data retrieved from KenPom.com on Nov. 25
Graphics by Nick Mandarano
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament