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The Most Surprising Early Stats in the 2013-14 College Basketball Season

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2013

The Most Surprising Early Stats in the 2013-14 College Basketball Season

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    Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    It's still early days in the college basketball season. Most of the top teams are still plowing through opponents that make Angola vs. the United States at the 1992 Olympics look like a tight matchup.

    (No truth to the rumor that most of Memphis' roster asked for Marcus Smart's autograph Tuesday night, although they probably should have.)

    As a result, some statistical oddities are bound to occur. It's anyone's guess which ones are flukes and which will be sustainable over the course of the season.

    The figures presented on these 10 pages, however, are interesting looks at who's hit the ground running and who's simply landed with a thud. Stories are presented in no particular order.

     

    All statistics through games of November 20 unless otherwise noted.

Wisconsin Scored 103 Points

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    Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    The Wisconsin Badgers are often derided for playing slow and methodical basketball, which is an oversimplification. They could never be confused with an uptempo outfit, however, as Tuesday's 103-85 win over North Dakota was UW's first 100-point outburst since December 1995.

    That 1995-96 crew was an odd bunch to be cracking 100. Coach Dick Bennett, never considered a fast-break maven, was in his first season. Center Sam Okey led the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game. The team would fail to break 60 in 16 of its 31 games.

    This year's team seems only slightly more likely, featuring skilled players like Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser, along with the shooting touch of forward Frank Kaminsky. More on Kaminsky in a moment.

    According to Ken Pomeroy, the Badgers hadn't had a regulation game feature 70 possessions since January 9, 2010 against Purdue. They've now had two in a row (subscription required), with 73 against Green Bay and 74 against North Dakota. Could coach Bo Ryan be (gasp) pushing the tempo?

    Eh, probably not. This game is a bit of an outlier, and the largest reason can be found on the next slide.

Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky Scored 43

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    Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    In that Wisconsin win over North Dakota, the Badgers' scoring outburst was keyed by a guy who, while barely into his 20s, already looks like an accountant playing in an evening rec league.

    Junior forward Frank Kaminsky had never broken 40 points in a game at any level before dropping a national season-high 43 on the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux. His college career high was 19.

    The total gave him the school's single-game record, surpassing the mark shared by 1960s forward Ken Barnes and 1990s swingman Michael Finley.

    Barnes never even had another 30-point game in his career, while Finley had eight. Kaminsky's night may not be the complete outlier that Barnes' was, but don't expect him to keep torching the nets the way Finley did, either.

    Kaminsky shot 16-of-19 from the floor, made all six of his threes and added 5-of-6 from the line to set the record.

    To get another perspective on how odd this performance was, consider that the Badgers have failed to surpass 43 points as a team four times in the past three seasons.

UConn's Niels Giffey Gives 110%

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    While the sample size is small, UConn forward Niels Giffey is making the most of the 57 minutes he's been given so far this season.

    Through four games, Giffey is shooting a very strong 16-of-20 from the floor. That's 80 percent.

    He's made 12 of his 15 three-point attempts. That is also 80 percent.

    Combine the two and you get a ludicrous effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 110. Yes, 110 percent. Here's Ken Pomeroy's breakdown of the formula in case you'd like to double check the math.

    In each of Giffey's first three games, he scored at least 13 points off the bench. His 11.5 per game average is fourth in the nation among players getting 15 minutes or less. Memphis freshman Nick King is the only major-conference player outperforming him so far.

Players Are Fouling Out All Over...

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The big man throwing it down to the left is Manhattan forward Rhamel Brown. If you feel bad that you haven't heard of him, just remind yourself that he plays for Manhattan, and that should explain it.

    While Brown is one of the nation's best shot-blockers with a career 2.6 per game average, that's not why he's here. This year, Brown is one of the players suffering from tinnitus thanks to referees' constant whistles.

    Through games of November 20, StatSheet.com listed 31 players with three or more appearances who were averaging at least 4.25 fouls per game. Brown is on the list after being called for 17 violations in four games.

    While the new rules are an adjustment for everyone, referees continue to bail out ball-handlers by doling out fouls to any defender unfortunate enough to be run over by a reckless driver.

    Last season's most disqualified player was North Dakota center Mitch Wilmer, who fouled out 12 times in 33 games. This season, Sacred Heart freshman Cole Walton is on pace to be DQ'd 24 times.

...But Fouls Aren't Up as Much as We Think

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    This may be one of the only plays in the November 9 game between Niagara and Seton Hall where someone wasn't called for a foul. Marcus Ware (No. 21 in black) got a clean block on Seton Hall point guard Jaren Sina's layup attempt. It was one of only four stuffs in the game.

    Meanwhile, the referees dragged the game out to roughly the length of the first two Godfather movies by calling 73 fouls and awarding 102 free throws. Strangely, neither figure set a national record. For that, we must go back to Arizona vs. Northern Arizona on January 26, 1953.

    So, with games like this going on all the time, teams must be averaging around 28 to 30 fouls per game, right?

    Wrong.

    Kevin Pauga of KPI Sports crunches the numbers multiple times per week and computes the effects that the new defensive rules are having on the game. Through November 19, scoring was up to 73.7 points per game, which would be the highest average since 1994-95. That satisfies one aim of the NCAA's defensive crackdown.

    But what about fouls? Surely coaches are having to press walk-ons into service as half their roster fouls out. Again, not so much.

    Teams are currently averaging 20.7 fouls per game, an increase of roughly 17 percent, or three fouls per game over last year. It's a noticeable jump, and that average would be the highest since 1953-54. Still, there are plenty of games being played that aren't endless death marches from one foul line to the other. Teams are currently averaging 24 free-throw attempts per game, a far cry from 50.

    If your team's getting into extensive foul trouble and its games are becoming interminable slogs, the real culprit may be your team's defense. Continuing to play defense with slapping hands instead of moving one's feet will result in a lot of talented players watching more ball than they play.

    After all, the officials are doing their jobs. Once your team learns to play better defense, the games will level off.

Kendall Williams Lives at the Line

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Okay, just one more note on fouls.

    New Mexico guard Kendall Williams weighs about 180 pounds, so he's always been a player who took bumps and hand checks from opposing defenses. For his career, Williams has a free-throw rate (FTA per 100 FGA) of 57.7, meaning he draws nearly 60 free throws for every 100 shots he takes from the floor.

    The new rules have gotten Williams a lot of points for nothing and chicks for free, to paraphrase Dire Straits.

    Through two games, Williams has taken all of eight shots from the field. He's made seven of them, including hitting 3-of-4 from deep. That's almost Niels Giffey hot.

    Where Williams has excelled, however, is in drawing the whistles. He's taken 22 foul shots, making 20 for 91 percent accuracy. But do that math again on the free-throw rate. That 57.7 FTR has ballooned to 275.0 so far this season.

    Last season's FTR leader was Ball State's Majok Majok, who came in at a 94.0 per StatSheet.com. Williams' figure is likely to stay high thanks to the new rules, but it'll get back to double digits soon.

    Right?

Joe Harris Riding the Roller Coaster

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Virginia guard Joe Harris only had fewer than 12 points in just four games all of last season. That consistency made him an All-ACC selection and prompted B/R's experts to name him a consensus third-team preseason All-American.

    This season has already seen more valleys than Harris was used to as a junior. In two of Virginia's four gamesthe Cavs' lone loss to VCU and a win over NavyHarris has been his usual solid self with a total of 34 points on 70 percent shooting.

    In the other twowins over James Madison and DavidsonHarris was a non-factor offensively, scoring a total of six points and making 2-of-10 shots.

    There's nothing terminally wrong with Harris' game as far as we can tell. After all, he's followed up each off day with a bounce-back performance. Still, he's the top line on everyone's scouting report, and he's never been a big penetrator who goes and gets foul shots.

    There may be a few more off nights in Harris' future, but he'll still have those strong games to follow. Once other players emerge as consistent threats, defenses will have little choice but to ease up on Harris.

Yogi Ferrell: Big Ten Player of the Year?

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Last season, there wasn't a whole lot of need for then-freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell to be a big scoring threat for Indiana. So he wasn't.

    Ferrell averaged 7.6 points per game over his rookie season, shooting a hair over 40 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range. Even in the Hoosiers' cupcake bakery of a non-conference schedule, Ferrell deferred to the Hoosiers' veterans.

    This season, he is a veteran. Ferrell and senior Will Sheehey are the only Hoosiers with 1,000 minutes in an Indiana uniform, and the sophomore playmaker is taking charge accordingly.

    Through four games, Ferrell is off to a hot start at 19.5 points a night. His shooting percentages have risen to 46.2 from the floor and 40.7 from three. The scoring average is third in the Big Ten so far, ahead of even ballyhooed Hoosier freshman Noah Vonleh. Even while he's pouring in the points, Ferrell is continuing to create for others, dishing 4.5 assists per game.

    Once again, the Hoosiers have not played much legitimate competition with the possible exception of two-time NCAA participant Long Island. Ferrell could use a great game against Washington at Madison Square Garden to build confidence that he can still excel against major opponents.

Shannon Scott Outplaying Aaron Craft?

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    If we told an Ohio State fan before the season that, four games in, guard Shannon Scott would be leading the team in scoring, the reaction would have fallen somewhere between disbelief and concern.

    That is, however, where the Buckeyes find themselves now. While All-American candidate Aaron Craft scuffles along at 34 percent from the floor, his former backup now frequently shares the court and makes plays on both ends.

    Scott has scored at least 13 points in three of OSU's first four games, putting up a 61.4 eFG%. In addition to his 12.5 points per game, Scott is also producing 4.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game. All of this in less than 26 minutes per game.

    It's Scott, not Craft, leading the team in assist percentage and steal percentage according to Sports-Reference.com. While Scott may regress to the mean and a purer scorer like Sam Thompson or LaQuinton Ross may catch fire at some point, for now the Ohio State Buckeyes look like Shannon Scott's team.

Louisville's Defense as Nasty as Ever

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    Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    The newly strict hand-checking rules were supposed to have a negative impact on aggressive, physical defenses like Louisville's and VCU's. VCU has allowed a ton of free throws early in the season, but its ability to force turnovers has allowed the Rams to survive nonetheless.

    Meanwhile, Louisville has crushed four opponents that it should be expected to crush, and the new rules haven't come into play much at all.

    The Cardinals have always forced turnovers under Rick Pitino. According to Ken Pomeroy (subscription required), Louisville has finished in the national top 60 in opponents' turnover percentage eight times in the 11 years KenPom has tracked, including each of the last five. So far this year, the Cards are first in the nation, forcing turnovers on 31.5 percent of opponents' possessions.

    Unlike VCU, Louisville hasn't run afoul of the referees in getting all those stops, either. Opponents have only been allowed 22.7 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, good for eighth in the country. Over the past 11 years, the Cards have ranked 183rd in that category on average with a median FTR of 37.0.

    Once again, stopping Hartford and Cornell is a far cry from stopping Kentucky and UConn. Still, with each game, Louisville's confidence in its defense grows. Good games against the more potent offenses on the schedule will prove Louisville capable of defending that national championship.

     

    For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.

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