Final Four: Having “nun” of the old-school analytics

When doing analysis to get data that is most helpful, it is important to ask the best question you can

There may be two kinds of higher powers at work in this captivating March Madness tournament. Sister Jean has become the darling of the 2018 NCAA tournament for her powerful belief in offering better analysis to support her team’s coach, even as she occasionally breaks with data and turns to a different higher power.

As each of these teams are deep into statistical analysis to define their path to victory, let’s draw inspiration from Sister Jean and look at how asking better questions yields more actionable data that can strengthen team performance.

You could ask, “What is the average number of points Duncan Robinson gets in a game?” and the data would show that he averages 9.5 points a game. Or, “How many points does Ibi Watson score per game?” and the data would show that he averages 2.3 points per game.

Those answers tell you something, but it isn’t as informative as asking, “How many points does Robinson (or Watson) get per minute he is on the court?” It turns out that, this year, Robinson averages 25.9 minutes and Watson averages 5.6 minutes per 40-minute game. Translating these stats into a comparison reveals that Watson scores .4 points per minute, while Robinson scores .36 per minute in the game.

(Next page: How to ask the right questions to get the right data)

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