The Commish Online www.thecommishonline.com
When Stats Go Bad II
January 17, 2007
Just about a year ago, I wrote an article about the misuse of stats by announcers, writers, and people in general. Last time, the culprit was a football game; this time, the abuse happened in a college basketball game.
Watching a game the other day on ESPN (Kansas vs. Missouri, I think), I stumbled upon the stat absurdity, courtesy of an announcer of the juggernaut sports network. Someone fed the announcer this stat and he ran with it: Missouri is 7-0 in their past 7 games when they finish with more rebounds than the opponent.
While the stat may be true, it tells us NOTHING other than Missouri wins when it plays better than its opponent. Too many times, announcers and statisticians confuse the cause and effect. The biggest and most common misconception is the idea that winning teams in the NFL rush the ball more. While it may be true (I haven't done my homework on it yet), it reverses the cause and effect. Running the ball doesn't lead to winning; winning teams (or teams with a lead) protect leads and therefore run the ball more. That's why a decent percentage of 300+ yard passing games are performing by QBs in a losing cause. The team didn't lose in spite of the "good" game by the QB - the QB was forced to pass more in an attempt to comeback and likely raked up some meaningless stats late in the game.
The same can be said about the rebound statistic. Yes, teams CAN rebound better than others, and yes, teams CAN achieve more offensive rebounds than the opponent, but in general, most rebounds come on the defensive end. If your opponent is missing more shots than you, aren't you more likely to accumulate more rebounds? If you are hitting more of your shots (giving your opponent less chances at rebounds), aren't you more likely to be winning the game?
A better stat would be measuring the percent of rebounds vs. opponents missed shots. If Missouri (or any team) is over a specific percentage (say 90%), that would give an actual indication that the team is either rebounding well, preventing offensive rebounds, or accumulating their own offensive rebounds. In any case, that stat would help tell a story rather than reiterate the ending.