Tempo-Free MAAC: How Valuable Are You?

There are only four games left in the MAAC regular season for each team. This is baffling to think about. As the teams battle for final positioning down the stretch it’s time for us to start thinking about things like postseason awards.

Valuable: A thing that is of great worth

In order to do that it’s imperative that journalists, coaches, and sports information personnel define some particularly nebulous concepts including the “Most Valuable Player.” What exactly does “Most Valuable” mean? That’s a great question. It causes all sorts of problems in Major League Baseball and it could cause similar issues in the MAAC this season.

There seems to be a rising consensus that Canisius’ Billy Baron is going win the MAAC’s Player of the Year award. (Basically the conference’s MVP.) There’s no shame in that assumption either. Baron is coming off a ridiculous 40-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist performance in willing Canisius to a 92-88 triple-overtime victory at Siena. Without the younger Baron the Golden Griffs would probably be lost. (Read CBS’ Jeff Borzello on Baron when you get the chance.) Baron has been on the court for almost 96% of Canisius’ possessions during MAAC play. His father (who is also his head coach) obviously thinks he’s extremely valuable, because Baron almost never comes off the court. But in a funny way that might hide some of Billy’s value.

One of the ways to measure value is how a team performs when a player is on and off the court. Yes, plus-minus certainly has its drawbacks (small sample sizes, weird interaction effects, etc.), but it can also be illuminating in the right contexts. I took 10 of the top players in the MAAC and figured out their team’s points per possession on offense and defense when they were both on and off the court and the calculated the pythagorean expectation in both situations. The difference might begin to quantify how valuable a player is on the court.

Last First Team Pythag In Pythag Out % Poss. In Pythag Diff
Baron Billy Canisius 77.6% 10.6% 95.6% 0.670
Drame Ousmane Quinnipiac 82.8% 30.8% 61.5% 0.521
Azotam Ike Quinnipiac 72.3% 30.2% 80.8% 0.421
Beamon George Manhattan 91.3% 53.0% 58.3% 0.384
Alvarado Michael Manhattan 87.3% 53.9% 69.5% 0.333
Brown Rhamel Manhattan 85.5% 69.8% 56.4% 0.156
Armand Sean Iona 80.4% 65.4% 87.7% 0.150
Laury David Iona 78.0% 82.3% 74.2% -0.043
Mason Antoine Niagara 22.0% 69.4% 93.3% -0.475
Dominique Marvin Saint Peter’s 22.0% 75.0% 83.6% -0.530

Baron (because he plays so much) suffers from a gigantic small sample size issue. I doubt the Griffs would really win just two games in the MAAC if he wasn’t present, but in the 50 possessions he hasn’t been on the court that’s how the team has played. At the bottom of the list, Niagara’s Antoine Mason faces a similar conundrum (77 possessions off the court). The cases aren’t as extreme for Iona’s Sean Armand (143 off) or Marvin Dominique of Saint Peter’s (177 off), but they aren’t exactly robust either. Still, this at least begins to approximate how good teams are with and without their star players.

One I’d like to point out? Manhattan’s George Beamon. The Jaspers’ super senior swingman missed part of MAAC play, which makes his sample sizes in both cases particularly robust, but when he’s on the court Manhattan is almost unstoppable, playing at the level of a team that wins 90% of its games (+18.5 points/100 possessions). All of that value comes on the defensive end. What? You thought that Beamon’s amazing ability to absorb 27% of MC’s possessions when he’s on the court with a 114.3 offensive rating was the key to the Jaspers’ success? Nope. It’s because when Beamon is able to roam in the press Manhattan’s defense goes from good to the college basketball equivalent of a black hole. MAAC opponents have scored 87 points per 100 possessions when Beamon is on the court. That’s insane. (It’s also because Beamon can do it while playing a huge role in the Jaspers’ offense.)

Another player that won’t get his due this season because he missed some time for an injury is Ousmane Drame. The Quinnipiac big man improves QU’s offense and defense by significant margins. So does Ike Azotam. Though overall the two conclusions taken in combination seem to say more about QU’s front court depth than anything else.

You might be wondering why Marvin Dominique is so low. The Fordham transfer has had a breakout season for the Peacocks, but the team has struggled defensively when he’s on the court. It’s odd too, because it seems to be entirely related to offensive rebounding. The Peacocks have given up 30% more offensive rebounds when Dominique is on the court even though he’s an excellent defensive rebounder. It makes little sense. (But I’m open to theories.)

Baron will probably win the MAAC’s Player of the Year, but it shouldn’t be because he plays a lot. It should be because coaches and media really think he’s the player no team could be without.

Luck: A force that brings good fortune or adversity

Let’s also spend a little time this week talking about luck. With just four games remaining in MAAC play there are a bunch of teams that are playing above or below their pythagorean expectation. Almost half the league are 0.95 wins above or below where efficiency margin expects. When you call it “luck” you bring all these silly connotations. All I really mean though is teams whose win totals are inconsistent with their overall quality of play.

Quinnipiac has been the greatest beneficiary (+1.7 wins), while teams at the bottom of the standings – namely Niagara (-1.0 wins) and Fairfield (-1.3 wins) – look worse because of some annoyingly close losses. Does this mean we could see some upsets during the MAAC tournament? Definitely. Is it guaranteed? Nope. All I’m trying to capture here is that there’s some discrepancies in the results and maybe QU isn’t the same quality as Manhattan or Canisius despite what the Bobcats’ record suggests.

Superlatives:

  • Best Team: Iona (0.14 efficiency margin)
  • Worst Team: Fairfield (-0.12 efficiency margin)
  • Best Offense: Iona (1.19 points scored per possession)
  • Worst Offense: Saint Peter’s (0.95 points scored per possession)
  • Best Defense: Manhattan (0.95 points allowed per possession)
  • Worst Defense: Niagara (1.13 points allowed per possession)
  • Luckiest Team: Quinnipiac (1.75 wins above expected)
  • Unluckiest Team: Fairfield (1.27 wins below expected)