Digging Into Loyola's Offense

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

The 'Hounds are disgustingly good with the ball.

Loyola's offense has been a destruction machine this season. Facing a solid slate of opposing defenses, the 'Hounds have detonated small explosions in the crease area of the opposition. This isn't hyperbole without support -- Loyola is as offensively capable as any team in the nation:

LOYOLA'S TRUNCATED OFFENSIVE PROFILE
METRIC HIGH POINT NATIONAL RANK NATIONAL AVG.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 43.72 2 30.93
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 33.57% 8 27.94%
Opponent Save Percentage 44.83% 6 52.20%
Offensive Assist Rate 25.07 1 17.43
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 32.94 1 46.27
Strength of Schedule: Opposing Defenses Faced 29.83 12 31.08

The Greyhounds are a highly-efficient offensive team with layers of strength to support its offensive efforts. The team shoots the ball well, values the bean when in possession, and isn't afraid to share the ball to create preferable scoring opportunities. It's that last point -- Loyola's willingness to distribute and share the wealth -- that arguably makes the 'Hounds such a difficult offensive team to control: Loyola creates dynamic situations conducive to scoring, identifying valuable postures to pound the cage, and selflessly maximizes those opportunities. Yet, simply understanding that the team's offensive assist rate -- assists per 100 offensive opportunities -- is through the roof and serves as a major factor to the Greyhounds' overall offensive efficiency isn't enough.

To further understand how Loyola has generated tallies, it's useful to pull apart the Greyhounds' scoring tandems. An analysis of that nature provides an illustration as to (1) how goals are scored, (2) which tandems are most prevalent in generating goals, and (3) what Loyola may be looking for in the offensive end of the field. Of Loyola's 144 tallies this season, the top five scoring tandems look like this:

TOP FIVE SCORING FREQUENCY
RANK TANDEM FREQUENCY
1. Pontrello-Unassisted 20
2. Shultz-Ward 13
3. Pontrello-Ward 10
4. Sherlock-Unassisted 7
5. Ward-Unassisted 6

It's no surprise that the top five scoring tandems that Loyola has experienced this season comes from the team's top four individual point-generators of 2014 (Nikko Pontrello, Justin Ward, Brian Schultz, and Brian Sherlock). There are some interesting aspects to this chart, though, that go beyond the mere revelation that the Greyhounds' top four point generators have a big impact on Loyola's offensive output:

  • About 39 percent of Loyola's 144 tallies this season have involved Pontrello racking up an unassisted tally, Shultz and Ward hooking up for a goal (in some way), Pontrello and Ward hooking up for a goal (in some way), Sherlock scoring an unassisted goal, or Ward scoring an unassisted goal. That's not an overly dramatic volume of scoring localized to the team's most frequent scoring tandems, but it is notable for the 'Hounds: tandems appearing between two and five times this season account for about 42 percent of Loyola's 144 tallies this season (about 20 percent of the team's goals have occurred through a one-time tandem). The majority of the Greyhounds' offense is coming from tandems outside of the team's most frequent hookups, but it's not overly substantial. In other words, focusing exclusively on Pontrello getting it on his own or Ward feeding Pontrello or Shultz doesn't shut Loyola down because the team is getting cash from elsewhere in a non-negligible fashion, yet the team is still focusing on those big scoring tandems to make Loyola's engine run. There are thousands of ways to skin a cat, and Loyola is willing to try them all (and they're getting results).
  • Ward and Pontrello have hooked up only 10 times this season with Ward feeding Pontrello on 90 percent of their tandems. I didn't expect that. Looking at both Ward and Pontrello's output this season -- 48 and 43 points, respectively -- I'd have expected that Ward and Pontrello would have had a greater scoring relationship than what they actually have (especially given Ward's role in the offense to distribute). As it turns out, only 21 percent of Ward's points this year are somehow attributable to Pontrello and 23 percent of Pontrello's points this year are somehow attributable to Ward. Science!
  • Schultz has relied heavily on Ward to score. Of Schultz's 19 goals this season, 13 are attributable to a Ward helper. In terms of output value, Schultz is highly tied to Ward effectively getting him the bean.
  • Ward appears three times in the top five tandems, accounting for 29 hookups this year; Pontrello appears twice in the top five tandems, accounting for 30 hookups this year. So, who's more valuable to the 'Hounds? (Answer: They're both really, really valuable.) That's the question that may lead to a split in votes between the two for the Tewaaraton Award.

Staying with Loyola's top four point generators, that group has done a solid job at providing the team's offense a net benefit in terms of chartable activity. Using an estimate -- an estimate is necessary because shift and minute information on a player basis isn't available -- of possession usage and production in those possessions, these four players are providing pretty solid output:

LOYOLA'S TOP FOUR OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION
METRIC WARD PONTRELLO SCHULTZ SHERLOCK TEAM
Estimated Percentage of Possessions Ended 26.24% 20.70% 16.03% 12.24% N/A
Estimated Percentage of Possessions Ended Positively 13.99% 12.54% 8.16% 5.83% N/A
Estimated Percentage of Possessions Ended Negatively 12.24% 8.16% 7.87% 6.41% N/A
Estimated Net Benefit +1.75% +4.37% +0.29% -0.58% N/A
Estimated Points per 100 Offensive Opportunities 13.99 12.54 8.16 5.83 67.06

Some brief notes on this:

  • The percentage of possessions that Ward has ended negatively is highly attributable to the role he plays on the team -- primary carrier and distributor (although Pontrello is a dodging/carrying factor in the offense). His 27 turnovers this season is more than double that of Pontrello, but Ward's position in the Greyhounds' offense is different than what Pontrello is asked to do. Players in Ward's role tend to have smaller net benefit numbers than players that don't carry the bean as much (Lyle Thompson is a notable exception; his net benefit percentage at the moment is 11.13 percent). Using a quarter of the Greyhounds' offensive opportunities, though, you'd like to see a somewhat higher net benefit percentage.
  • Pontrello is shooting 50.68 percent on the season and using around 21 percent of Loyola's offense. Pontrello could arguably increase his usage and further inflate the Greyhounds' offensive production. That sounds odd -- generally a higher usage deflates shooting percentage and net benefit -- but given the fact that opposing goalkeepers only have a 28.85 save percentage on Pontrello bombs, the overall benefit to Pontrello assuming even more responsibility for Loyola could pay dividends.
  • Almost 75 percent of Loyola's offensive opportunities end with Ward, Pontrello, Schultz, or Sherlock doing something. Viewed in the context of the above tandem charts, their fingerprints are all over the Greyhounds' offense. Moreover, Ward and Pontrello are combining to end almost 47 percent of Loyola's offensive opportunities by doing something. You can make a solid argument that Ward and Pontrello have been dual hubs that have driven the team's output (that output defined through the sharing tandems) with Shultz and Sherlock providing substantial support. Everything else is in these four cats' orbit. Hell, these guys are combining for almost 41 points per 100 offensive opportunities; that's more than Boston University, Canisius, Dartmouth, Furman, Georgetown, Hobart, Lafayette, Manhattan, Monmouth, Mount St. Mary's, Providence, VMI, and Wagner are producing as teams.
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