How mainstream has efficiency become? In the press conference following the national championship game, Kentucky coach John Calipari searched for words to validate that his team had won on more than talent alone. He chose these: "We were the best team this season. We were the best team. The most efficient team. We shared the ball."
The title-winning head coach -- who's not known as a numbers guy -- from America's most blue-blooded program defends his accomplishment by using "efficiency" in the most-attended press conference of the year. It doesn't get more mainstream than that. And Calipari was justified in saying it: The Wildcats finished No. 1 in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com, as have six of the past eight national champions. In retrospect, doesn't it seem strange that the guy who assembled and coached the most efficient team, with the best record and the national championship, didn't win any coach of the year honors, despite dominating all facets of the game? Recruiting, efficiency, wins, hardware: check, check, check, check.
Coach of the year awards are based on nebulous criteria, such as "defying expectations of preseason poll voters" or "overcoming adversity." Michigan State's Tom Izzo was SI's pick, Missouri's Frank Haith was the Associated Press' and U.S. Basketball Writers' Association's pick, and Kansas' Bill Self was the Naismith Award's choice. There was no consensus like in the race for Player of the Year, where Kentucky's Anthony Davis -- who was quantifiably the most valuable player according to John Hollinger's PER formula and John Pudner's Value Add -- swept the major awards. There never seems to be a consensus on who did the best coaching job or what even constitutes the best coaching job, which leads me to believe that a statistical review of sideline performance, based on (you guessed it!) efficiency, might provide some clarity.
This column serves as SI.com's first annual Data-Based Coaching Awards, which cover eight full-season categories and four tournament categories (in Thursday's). Winning coaches, be advised that no trophies/plaques/certificates are being issued. This is just for pride ... and statistical proof of a job well done.
1. Efficiency King: John Calipari, Kentucky
His Wildcats ranked No. 1 overall in kenpom.com's Pythagorean formula, which is based on efficiency margin. There is a running joke among the Flat Earth Society that Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has a trophy case full of Efficiency National Titles somewhere in the Kohl Center, but, as I said earlier, the title-winning team has, over the past eight seasons, also been the nation's most efficient team on six occasions. This is Calipari's first Efficiency Title, as his 2008 Memphis team came in second behind Kansas, just as it did in real life.
2. Wildly Exceeding Expectations: Bob Hoffman, Mercer
If you were one of the few who didn't closely follow the CollegeInsider.com tournament -- why were you not watching? -- you missed the culmination of Hoffman's incredible turnaround effort, going from 15-18 in 2010-11 to 27-11 and a CIT championship this season. Kenpom.com's preseason projection formula assigned the Bears a Pythagorean winning percentage of 32.5, but they finished at 69.4, exceeding efficiency expectations by the widest margin (36.9 percentage points) of any team in the country.* Hoffman did this despite losing four senior rotation players from 2010-11, including his three highest possession-users. He elevated senior forward Justin Cecil into a primary offensive role, and the breakout of diamond-in-the-rough sophomore center Daniel Coursey -- who nearly blocked the same percentage of shots as Kentucky's Anthony Davis did -- helped solidify the defense.
(* Wyoming actually made a bigger jump, but because Pomeroy's projection system doesn't evaluate the quality of transfers, it didn't take into full account impact of Leonard Washington and Luke Martinez on the Cowboys, thus skewing the results. Rest assured, though: Their coach gets his due next.)
3. Best Defensive Overhaul: Larry Shyatt, Wyoming
Shyatt, the defensive-mastermind assistant behind Florida's back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, made his mark on the Cowboys in Year 1 as head coach. He took over a team that ranked 191st and 218th in defensive efficiency the past two seasons -- and they jumped all the way to 27th in 2011-12, the biggest gain of any team in the nation. Shyatt installed his hybrid version of the Pack-Line Defense, which was first popularized by Dick Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Wyoming used it to dominate the defensive glass (ranking 12th in fewest offensive boards allowed) and lock down the three-point line (ranking 36th in 3FG% allowed). The Cowboys' record, as a result, went from 10-21 to 21-12, and they're well-positioned to contend for an NCAA tournament bid next year.
4. After-Timeout Efficiency King: Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
So much for the concerns about Hoiberg having zero coaching experience prior to being hired by ISU: He was the game's best timeout tactician this season, even ahead of well-established coaches such as Thad Matta and Calipari. I ran strength-of-schedule adjustments on Synergy Sports Technology's After-Timeout Efficiency data, and the Cyclones ranked No. 1 at 1.093 adjusted points per possession, followed by Ohio State at 1.066 and Kentucky at 1.019. While the Buckeyes and Wildcats had top-10 overall offenses, the Cyclones ranked 23rd, making their national-best ATO figures even more significant.
The entire adjusted-ATO top 10: 1) Iowa State, 2) Ohio State, 3) Kentucky, 4) Colorado State, 5) Rider, 6) Indiana, 7) Belmont, 8) Creighton, 9) Duke, 10) Wichita State. (Smart hire of Tim Miles from Colorado State, Nebraska. Dude can coach.)
5. Outclassing One's League: Steve Prohm, Murray State
The 31-2 Racers finished with a Pythagorean winning percentage of 80.8 -- a good 34 percentage points higher than the second-best Ohio Valley Conference team, Tennessee State. No team put a bigger gap between itself and the remainder of its conference, by means of overall efficiency, than did Prohm's Racers. The next-closest teams in this category were Davidson (+25.8 from the SoCon), Memphis (+19.7 from the C-USA), UNC-Asheville (+18.5 from the Big South) and Belmont (+17.2 from the Atlantic Sun). It's a good thing that Belmont is jumping to the OVC in 2012-13. Murray State needs some competition.
6. Dominating One's League: John Calipari, Kentucky
Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway tracks in-conference efficiency numbers all season in his Tuesday Truths, and the Wildcats' efficiency margin in SEC games was an absurd +0.26 points per possession -- better than any other leader of any other conference. They steamrolled, rather than tightrope-walked, their way to a 16-0 record in the SEC. For comparison, Syracuse (long the nation's No. 2 team) had an efficiency margin of +0.16 in the Big East, and Kansas (UK's title-game opponent) had a margin of +0.18 in the Big 12.
7. Most Success With The Least Depth: John Beilein, Michigan
The "need for depth" is a myth in college basketball: All four Final Four teams this season ranked 308th or lower in percentage of minutes by bench players. National champ Kentucky ranked 323rd, at 21.6 percent. You can get by with a short rotation, as long as it's talented and not foul-happy. And no one got by with a shorter rotation than Beilein. After losing point guard Darius Morris to the NBA earlier than expected, and then big-man Jon Horford to a medical-redshirt year, the Wolverines' coach allocated just 16.7 percent of his minutes to reserves, a figure that ranked 343rd nationally, ahead of only Siena and Youngstown State. And yet, Michigan managed to finish in a three-way tie for the Big Ten regular-season title -- the first time that's happened since 1985-86.
8. Most Success With The Least Experience: John Calipari, Kentucky
Only five teams had less experience, according to kenpom.com's index, than the Wildcats: Nicholls State, which ranked 332nd in efficiency, Niagara (238th), Rutgers (119th), Boston College (259th) and St. John's (152nd). None had a winning record. Kentucky went 38-2, won the national title and finished first in efficiency with an average experience level of 0.77 years.
Calipari was obviously aided by the fact that he had the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, including a superhuman, 6-foot-11 defensive menace, but making elite freshmen play well together is not easy. This UK team had less experience, top-to-bottom, than last year's (1.16 years) or the Wall-Cousins squad of 2009-10 (0.83 years), which means that Calipari's best team was also his youngest. And seeing that he grabbed three of our eight full-season awards, it might be wise to revise the COY list, with his name at the top.
Coming Thursday: Data-Based Coaching Awards for the NCAA tournament.