Data dive: Noah Vonleh’s usage

  • 02/05/2014 8:28 am in

(Editor’s note: Seth Hendrickson has joined Inside the Hall as a contributor and will use a system he developed that takes publicly available play-by-play data from college basketball games and organizes and extracts as much information as possible to gain a better of understanding of the game. A native of Crawfordsville, Indiana, Hendrickson holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Rose Hulman and a masters degree from Georgia Tech.)

Noah Vonleh shoots a field goal percentage of 53.9, while the rest of his teammates are good for a combined 43.7 percent. Of the players that log significant minutes, Vonleh shoots six percent better than the next closest player, Stanford Robinson.

For a team that struggles to score efficiently at times, it is logical to conclude that Indiana should be getting the ball into Vonleh’s hands as much as possible. However, much like Cody Zeller before him, the Hoosiers have trouble involving their most efficient scorer for long stretches of important games.

Additionally, Indiana seems to emphasize getting their big man the ball at the beginning of the game, and to great success, but then deviates from this strategy as the game wears on. Gaining a statistical perspective on this matter is possible by mining through the play-by-play data for each of Indiana’s games this season.

Specifically, the number of possessions in which Indiana “used” Noah Vonleh compared to the total number of possessions will be examined in the first edition of data dive. A player is “used” on a possession if, at any point during the possession, he registers a field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or a turnover. This measure is a variation on the usage percentage metric defined here.


The data seems to indicate a downward trend as the game time goes on, but the trend is not overwhelmingly clear. The trend for the first half of the game, however, is obviously downward. The second half shows a bit of a spike at the start, which is not surprising due to a re-emphasis of getting Vonleh touches coming out of halftime, but the rest of the half is more sporadic. The third largest spike, which comes at 33 minutes, could be explained by the fact that this is around the time that Vonleh would re-enter the game if he were in foul trouble.

Though the overall trend isn’t obvious, statistical tests can be performed on the data to give a definitive answer. A quick regression analysis — a statistical tool for identifying trends — shows that there is a downward correlation with a statistical confidence level of 95.4 percent. In other words, there is a 95.4 percent chance that the trend is real.

In short, Indiana loses its focus of getting the ball to Noah as the game goes on. By comparison, neither Michigan State for Adreian Payne nor Iowa for Aaron White show the same trend in similar analysis. Each of these teams is much more consistent in getting their big man the ball.

Having established this, an understandable question would be to ask if the Hoosiers are getting better as the season moves forward. Tracking the evolution of Vonleh’s usage percentage for each game throughout the season helps to identify any noticeable improvement:


This chart shows that the Hoosiers have, on the whole, been worse at finding Vonleh on the offensive end as the season has progressed. While Vonleh’s usage percentage was very high at the start of the season, the Hoosiers have clearly struggled to maintain consistency as the competition gets tougher and the scouting report becomes more focused on IU’s star freshman.

The Big Ten season has been a bit of a mixed bag, with the team struggling to keep Vonleh involved consistently. Of course, getting the ball down to the post is significantly more difficult against bigger, more-talented Big Ten defensive units, a fact which should be taken into consideration for the in-conference numbers.

A look at some of the worst scoring droughts the Hoosiers have gone through during the conference season further reinforces the importance of keeping Vonleh involved in the offense. The figure below shows a breakdown of which players have attempted shots during some of the major scoring droughts in the conference schedule thus far.


Two players which are clearly above their season average for many of these scoring droughts are Robinson and Yogi Ferrell, while Vonleh takes on a diminished role. Out of the 13 points displayed, only three times has Vonleh been above his conference season average in percentage of field goals attempted.

Vonleh did not attempt a single shot in one particularly gruesome stretch, a 12 minute segment versus Illinois where Indiana didn’t manage to make one field goal. It is also of note that Indiana won only one of the six games shown, overcoming a 15-point deficit to Penn State in Happy Valley.

With the conference season more than halfway over, it doesn’t seem likely that scoring responsibilities will change much. Ferrell and Vonleh figure to make up the bulk of the scouting report on the Hoosiers’ offense, which means Big Ten teams will do everything they can to prevent the post entry. How the Hoosiers learn to overcome this and increase their emphasis on finding Vonleh on offense will be a key factor in their success for the remainder of the season.

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  • iuoiu

    First off welcome to the site and I just love these types of data driven analysis (even though I’m a Marketing major). Also, I have a brother in law who played baseball at GT so there is a soft spot in my heart for GT.

    In terms of the “used” category, I noticed that the data does not include possessions where Noah is fed the ball but then is forced to kick it back out (usually because he’s met with a wall of 2-3 bigs). In my observations, this happens frequently – especially in the 2nd half. The most likely reason they do this is that teams have no fear of a kick-out 3 from us since Noah is also our best 3-pt threat. I’d love to see these kick-out possessions added to the mix just to see if what I’m seeing is actually backed up by data.

    The importance in feeding Noah though is definitely something that bears looking into. Last year I was not one of the people howling about not getting Cody the ball every possession because we had plenty of other very effective outside/driving threats with Hulls, Watford and Vic. Looking at our offensive stats from last year this bears out. This year though there are no outside threats and only 2 real consistent driving threats (Yogi and Stan). The lack of outside shooting means that teams can wall up Noah and clog the middle for Yogi and Stan, making this offense just look stinky. So this all gets back to one big point – no offense works consistently well without shooters.

  • Play by play data does not include “kick-out” possessions or touches, so there’s no way to include that in the analysis.

  • he’s getting the ball. just not forcing bad shots against double teams. these stats don’t reveal that kind of info

  • JerryCT

    I am not sure how the analysis accounts for periods Vonleh is on the bench. Does this analysis only look at periods he is in the game ?

    Also the implication here is that getting NV the ball is our team’s problem and not the other team’s adjustment during the game. Teams and players adjust to the competition .

    So accepting the analysis , which I too love to see, what can we do to get him touches ?

    1. Since the pass from the wing is the best place to feed I would play Yogi more on the wing and SR more at the top

    2. SInce NV’s ball screens do not get him a pass on the roll we could use a weakside player to screen for NV as he rolls to see if we can shake him loose in the lane toward the basket

    3. NV could also screen for a wing like Sheehey who cuts to the basket , if he can then also cut to the basket perhaps he is also open or in a mismatch if they switch

    It is very hard to feed him down low with a pure pass when teams sag on us. We need to get him in some space if we want more touches

  • Kyl470

    I think this article hit the nail right on the head. Last year IU struggled to consistently get Cody the ball inside and this team has the same issues with Noah. I think the type of quick pace, dribble and drive offense the team runs isn’t ideal for feeding the post. Not that there is anything wrong with that type of offense, it’s just not an ideal offense for a post player.

  • Walton

    – I think there is too much emphasis on getting Vonleh the ball in the post. I think it is more important to get him more touches period no matter where on the court. He needs more touches at the top of of the three point line. From there he can pass to teammates who are cutting or in the post, he can take a couple dribbles toward basket and make a long two, or if he has a lane he can drive it to the basket.

    – Another way to try to get him more touches/points is for his teammates to drive to the basket and dish or throw alley oops to him – don’t remember too many times Vonleh had alley oops thrown to him.
    – When he does get the ball in the post or close to the post I think he forces it too much to go to the basket. Instead he should focus more on creating a shot near where he catches it like a hook shot or a couple dribbles to set up his pivot
    – Lastly he needs more shots facing the basket, whether it be an open three or open two – he’s tall enough where he might be able to shoot over his defender facing the basket.

  • Seth, welcome to ITH and thanks for this instructive analysis.

    While the data instructive, and I hope we see many more posts like this here on ITH, it doesn’t tell the whole story with Noah. For the first 5-6 games in Big Ten season, there was a consistent trend of Noah getting open looks from 3 early. In fact, without looking, I think in four of the first 5 or 6 games he hit two threes within the first five minutes. And in many games, the Penn State game especially, he came out with monstrous aggression. What we have often seen as games have gone along is a decrease in this aggression from Noah, often as defenses have tightened around him. This makes it harder to get him the ball (which our guards are not particularly adept at anyway), and will result in the trends you are showing here.

    While the reasons for the data are perhaps more nuanced than you indicate, the overall point is an essential one: we HAVE to find ways to get Noah more shots. And not just post shots, but even face-up shots from as far back as the 3-point line. He has those skills. But he has to be more aggressive consistently throughout the game; the offensive gameplan must make this is a focal point; and it would sure help if guys like Yogi can keep providing consistent threats from outside, and if Stan can keep providing the driving threat, because that will draw some of the suffocating defensive attention away from Noah. It tends to frustrate him at times — as it should, he’s a freshman — and leads to some of ups and downs in his own offensive mindset that we’ve seen.

  • Kenneth234

    I don’t believe in the idea that Noah is getting tired, perhaps frustrated that the defenses are focusing on him so much and making it difficult to get the ball in positions he wants it. For the most part he is working hard to get open. Setting screens and spinning toward the post and such, but its not often successful. This is due to a lack of versatility within the screen actions, in my opinion. Perhaps putting Noah in positions in which he has someone screen for him from the weak side, and have him moving into the flashing into the strong post more often.

    But at the same time, since he is effective facing the basket out further away from the rim, he should also look to get the ball and a shot off further away from the rim on jump shots in a manner similar to how Michigan State utilizes Adrian Payne. At least I for one, and more comfortable with Noah taking outside shots than I am with Stan or at many times anyone but Yogi.

  • IUJeff

    2. Noah still rolls most times with his back to the ball so is not even looking for the pass.

  • Seth

    This is Seth, good question. The idea is that only one player can “use” the possession, so the player who shot the ball is the one who used it on an assist. I do agree that including assists is valid and helpful, in fact I almost did. At the end of the day though, I think the point is to ask, is Noah really getting enough shots? And if not, what is causing that.

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    Noah is only averaging 0.5 assists per game, so that would amount to only one more “use” of a possession every other game … I’m not sure it would affect the numbers that much. (Although a bulk of the assists came before B1G play, so it would show a decrease in usage as the season has progressed.)

  • Correct. He has 11 assists overall and just two in conference play.

  • b_side

    With you on both thoughts: a) welcoming this type of analysis on ITH but b) holding my breath due to lack of data available (mainly the touches, but also wondering why assists don’t count if turnovers do count).

    I rewatched the UM game last night and noticed Vonleh passed up at least two open threes (one in the first half, one in the second half) and one baseline layup/post move (toward the end of the game). Since those instances don’t get recorded, I’m hesitant to draw major correlations as a result.

    My B- conclusion: sometimes Vonleh is too unselfish. And it’s up to the coaches to tell him to be more aggressive when it comes to putting the ball in the bucket.

  • Walton

    I think that needs to be an area of attention as well. I think he can help the team by passing/assists from the top of the key. I feel his height is an advantage there, and can make more cuts to the basket after the pass.

  • Gregory Spera

    “…much like Cody Zeller before him…”
    This is the key line in the entire article. Crean’s half court “offense” had the same problems last year with four 1000 point scorers and excellent three point shooting. To think that Vonleh’s troubles will be solved by the arrival of next year’s class of shooters being able to spread the defense, might be wishful thinking. This problem involving post play may just be endemic to Crean’s “offense.”

  • MillaRed

    All of this points to our lack of creativity on offense. When do we ever see Noah get a look within the flow of our offense? How about a true pick and roll clear out with Yogi and Noah? When are their defenders forced to switch on these two so we can feed Noah on a mismatch? Happens to us all the time. Freeing him up for a 15 footer? He’s one of our best shooters.

    I realize teams are focusing on Noah. But when we force feed him in the post it can be ugly at times. I would run at least 5 plays, each twice a game to get Noah in space. Wish we could have done the same with Cody too.

    I really think having Hanner in there can open up opportunities for Noah.

  • PDXHoosier

    I have seen Noah get visibly frustrated later in games when he is working to get the ball or is wide open with his arm up and he doesn’t receive it

  • JWaltFTW

    Would love to see some Cody->Victor action between Noah and Stan. Heck, with the wings we got: Noah->Will, Noah->Stan, Noah->Troy. All would end with fabulous dunks or athletic finishes at the rim. One can dream?

  • shknqk

    Seth is gonna be a crowd favorite if he keeps this up!

    I’m sure you are already working on the substitution comparative analysis which has to be the sharpest and highest volume critique of CTC. Looking forward to that, Seth.

    If I was sketching a game plan on a napkin it would go something like this.

    8 minutes of pound it inside.
    5 minutes of inside out and using Noah to hit cutters like stan, Troy, will.
    After his break, give Noah face up looks on the perimeter with hanner inside.
    Last possesion of the half… Back inside to Noah for 3 the old fashioned way or kickout 3 pointer

  • Benhyoung14

    Dare I say that the problem is Yogi? Cause he was on last years team too.

  • 3AM Burrito

    I agree, I also don’t think running Noah down to the block and having him post is the best use of his talents. He has shown a nice attacking dribble from perimeter and also shown he can shoot 3’s. Especially lately he seems to have as many turnovers/misses as buckets when he gets it down there. I think Noah should get more touches, but would like to see more perimeter ones. I would absolutely love to see a Noah backscreen to Williams where Troy cuts for alley oop and Vonleh pops out to 3 if they overplay, or more pick and roll with Stan and Noah, or at end of shot clock, have Noah sometimes be the driver instead of Yogi. I just think if it becomes an obsession to get it to Noah on the blocks, this offense bogs down even worse.

  • Kyl470

    I noticed that as well. It seems that when Noah sets a pick he doesn’t roll aggressively like he is expecting to receive a pass. Most the time his eyes are on rim like he is anticipating trying to get a rebound.

  • David Macer

    5 away game, 4 homes games left…

  • Outoftheloop

    Not to include “makes an assist” in your metric seems inexplicable!

  • Outoftheloop

    Yes! Indiana does not have a post-up player. But Noah can score from anywhere and Hanner can cut to the rim and dunk. So use their skills!

  • Snookafly

    Totally agree about the pick and roll game. I’m just happy the message board is alive with good analysis and suggestion. I like CTC but listening to him chalk up the problem to “lack of aggression” for three straight years when we’ve been spoiled with with a top 5 center who is being underutilized is driving me crazy. We should be doing more to exploit this obvious advantage.

  • Seth

    All great points. I think the crux of the argument, though, is that you want your best players taking shots not only in the beginning of the game, but throughout and especially in crunch time (regardless if it’s not happening because of turnovers). If you look only at FGA and FTA, the first chart is predictably even more pronounced. How can Indiana get their only +50% shooter more shots later in the game? Does Noah need to quit turning the ball over late in games?

    The data is not perfect. It has generated some really good discussion into the “why” part of it and that’s really what it’s for.

  • SilverAtlanta

    Better ball movement could certainly help bring players out of the sag on Noah, but IU simply doesn’t move the ball well without turning it over. Great statistical analysis! Wonder if there is a metric for basketball maturity?

  • MillaRed

    Agreed. Open the lane for Yogi, Stan and Will. Noah and Hanner follow for the put back or…………..back to Hanner for threeeeeee!

    Man this is so easy!

  • MillaRed

    IMO, the next step for Noah would be the crisp pass out of a double team, kick out for three, well, if we had shooters.

    Never mind.

  • Seth

    Certainly, if Noah shot 100 times per game he would not make 54% of those shots, so you are correct. From what we know, though, he is shooting and scoring more at the beginning of the game than at the end. His point production tapers off, due to a lot of reasons others have pointed out — defenses adjusting, less aggressiveness, and the team not working as hard to get him the ball.

    This does not happen with Yogi Ferrell. Yogi’s shot attempts to do not decrease later in the game. If you assume Noah’s FG% is the same throughout the game (mostly valid, I think), he is maintaining this high FG% despite the increased attempts. Something to strive for would to keep his attempts consistently this high. Again, easier said than done. Noah himself needs to maintain his aggressiveness for 40 minutes.

  • msquaredb

    Love this “Data Dive” style article! Looking forward to more.

  • orefgoniu

    Do you mean Noah for the three? I do think Hanner can shoot the 10 to 12 footer ok. Some teams with similar talented players to what IU has, do keep them moving and it does look planned and easier for them to score. Duke comes to mind.

  • oregoniu

    Coaches need to show Noah some McGary tape from last year, he was really good on the pick and roll and coming off of the pick looking for the ball. I know we all felt he got away with moving picks and hip bumps, but he is a good screener.

  • Walton

    Yogi can hit them. Surprised how poorly Sheehey is shooting the 3, you’d think he is going to improve. Stan not good overall, but was 50% last game!, Etherington needs to step up more but you’d think he has it in him, ……..

    Grasping for straws.

  • Kelin Blab

    I think the case has always been strong for IU to play through Cody and Noah….however, my Crean criticism would be ….

    + Neither guy was never the focal point of the offense.
    + Vonleh seems to be limited to getting the ball on the block where he can be double teamed easily and then at the top of the key….Noah has more game that that.
    + IU has ALOT of combo guards, and not very many past first players. There first inclination is not to throw it in the post…..or even make that their first look.

    The numbers don’t like, love this data dive. The eyeball test doesn’t lie either….I think Izzo even mentioned giving the ball to Noah every time down….even if he touches it the defense has to respond to him.

  • MillaRed

    Oops thx man. Corrected.

  • the pick and roll is illegal in NCAA because it creates an unfair advantage for the offensive team that has a dominant center and a fast point guard who can also shoot.

    -Tom Crean

  • dssnyder1

    thing is CZ still made the 1000 point club in spite of CTCs offensive scheme. I guess one could argue CZ would have scored much more feeding him the ball more, still not too shabby.

  • MillaRed

    Ha ha that’s just mean.