Friday, November 3, 2017

Sam Houston and SFA: Two Different Formulas

A lot has been made of SFA's balanced offense this year as the 'Jacks currently have amassed 24 wins, half of those in conference play.  SFA will earn of the top seeds in this years' Southland Conference Tournament and the same is likely to be said of the rival Bearkats from Sam Houston.  But these two teams couldn't be built more differently, especially on offense and that's what we are going to take a look at today.

To prepare for this post, I scanned the statistics of all 13 Southland Conference clubs and started by writing down the Top 5 kill leaders on each team.  Then, I computed percentage of kills that each of these players were responsible for on their respective teams.  In this way, we can easily find out which teams depend the most on just two or three attackers and which teams tend to spread the offense around a bit more.  Let's get right to the results:

First, let's look at the role of the primary attacker.  The average team leader in kills in the Southland Conference is responsible for 23.8% of her team's terminations.  Here's how Sam Houston's leader (Jordan Vaughn) and SFA's kill leader (Haley Coleman) stack up in the ranks of percent of kills for their team:

Percentage of Team Total Kills By Kill Leader:

1. Vaughn, Sam Houston, 30.5%
2. Rogers, Northwestern State, 28.4%
3. Banks, Houston Baptist, 27.6%
12. Haley Coleman, SFA, 20.0%
Southland Average: 23.8%

This immediately points out the fact that SFA is not anywhere near as reliant on Coleman as Sam Houston is on Vaughn.  This may be obvious to you, but it's our first piece of evidence - and a big one - that SFA's offense is truly spread around this year.  Looking at some numbers a different, way, Vaughn averages 11.3 attacks per set compared to Coleman's 8.3.  That's a full three opportunities per set higher for Vaughn which equates to over 10 per match on average.  For SFA, those extra 10-12 balls per match are distributed to other players.  Let this soak in a minute before we move on. SFA is tops in the league in attack percentage and has been in the top third in the conference in kills per set all season long by not relying on a single attacker.

But, we often talk about pin hitters (plural) as carrying a heavy load, so what happens when we expand the percentages above to include the top duos in the conference in terms of workload.  As you see below, the story doesn't really change.  In fact, it accents even more how heavily Sam Houston depends on fewer attackers than anyone in the league.

Percentage of Team Total Kills By Top Two Kill Leaders:

1. Vaughn and White, Sam Houston, 56.8%
2. Banks and Wooten, Houston Baptist, 50.3%
3. Rogers and Brister, Northwestern State, 46.1%
10. Coleman and Daron, SFA, 38.2%
Southland Average: 42.9%

There are lots of interesting things in this leaderboard as well.  First, notice that Sam Houston and Houston Baptist are the only two schools in the conference that get more than half of their team kills from two players.  Again, illustrating balance in the offense, notice that SFA is 10th of 13th here.  Again, the more spread around the offense is, the lesser these percentages tend to be when incorporating just the top two team leaders.  But, probably most interesting is that SFA is one of only four schools in the conference to have its second leading scorer not be an outside hitter. The other three are UIW (Sarea Alexander, MB and Breyauna Hall, MB, tied for 2nd), McNeese (Shanna Spree, MB) and AMCC (Madison Green, RS).

Sam Houston depends on getting 18% more kills from its top two attackers than does SFA.  To look at this another way, SFA has given 41% of the set balls to our two leading primary outside hitters to date (Coleman and Evans). Sam Houston has set Vaughn and White a whopping 57% of the time -easily the highest percentage in the league.  That 16% difference in those two numbers equates to roughly 550 to 600 balls that have been set to girls other than the two primary outside hitters for SFA.  That's a lot of sets!  Plus, once again it illustrates with numbers just how much more diverse our offense has become and just how different it is than Sam Houston's attack.

Now, to REALLY show you how top heavy the Bearkat offense is, let's repeat this one last time by calculating the percentages of kills earned by the top THREE kill leaders on each Southland team.  Look at how much higher the Bearkat percentage is that even the second team on this leaderboard!

Percentage of Team Total Kills by Top Three Kill Leaders:

1. Vaughn, White and Cunningham, Sam Houston, 77.6%
2. Banks, Wooten and Gillard, Houston Baptist, 63.6%
3. Rogers, Brister and Seaton, Northwestern State, 62.1%
10. Coleman, Daron and Evans, SFA, 55.1%
Southland Average: 59.2%

Wow!  That's 14% more kills from the top three at Sam Houston that the next closest clubs on that list.  There is a 22% difference between SHSU and SFA on this list and again SFA comes in 10th illustrating that we are way more than three deep in terms of who generates kills for our offense.  By the way, in case you are wondering about the teams that come out MORE balanced on offense than SFA:  None of the teams ranking more evenly distributed than SFA project to make the tournament with the exception of Texas A&M - Corpus Christi. What this tells me is that the balanced offenses in the conference either are offenses that just can't find girls to generate kills or have multiple weapons like AMCC and SFA. 

It should be noted here that AMCC's "balance" is not achieved in the same way as SFA's.  The Islanders balance comes when you look at the second through fifth leading kill generators.  Brittany Gilpin leads AMCC with 281 kills, which is a ton more than second place leader Madison Green at 160.  But look at what happens with AMCC when you look at #2-#5:  Green (160), Nicholson (148), Doud (138) and Moran (134).  That is VERY evenly distributed. So, the Islanders (obviously) have one strong attacker and then a ton of balanced looks behind her.

SFA's balance is achieved in its top 3 kill leaders and then the mega-efficient Makenzee Hanna behind them.  To wit, Coleman has 282 kills; Daron has 256 and Evans 239.  That's the primary balance for SFA.  Then you factor in Hanna who is our fourth leading terminator, but is hitting .357 to lead the conference.

There is another way that we can illustrate SFA's balanced offense in 2017. A measure called standard deviation can be used to measure the spread among a set of numbers.  The lower the standard deviation, the more consistent or more "bunched" a set of numbers are around the average.  The higher the standard deviation, the more spread or diverse a set of numbers are. 

When factoring in the top four attackers on each team, SFA's standard deviation ranks 9th in the conference.  Sam Houston has the HIGHEST standard deviation whether you factor in the primary three, four or five attackers on each team.  So, no matter how you slice it, the Bearkat offense is the offense that depends heaviest on its top three.  In fact, contributing to this highest standard deviation in the conference is the fact that SHSU is the ONLY team in the conference whose fourth leader in kills hasn't even tallied 100 terminations.  Madison Wallace is fourth on the Bearkats in kills with just 91.  Makenzee Hanna is 4th for SFA and has more than TWICE that many (186). In fact, among all 4th leading scorers in the conference only Megan Nash of UCA (214) and Alexis Warren of NSU (190) have more kills than Hanna.  Nash is hitting .319 while playing in the middle like Hanna.  Warren is an outside hitter with a .074 attack percentage.  Ouch.

To put a bow on this, Sam Houston's offense by either measuring percentages of kills by their leaders are spread in the Top 4 or 5 attackers is clearly the most dependent offense in the league on the fewest girls.  But, of course, the Bearkats have traditionally had offenses like this and it has served them well in 2017 as they come in to Saturday's match up in 3rd place and they project as a dangerous team to play in the postseason.

For SFA, their percentages of kills from their top kill generators rank below conference average - which is GOOD when trying to demonstrate that you have a balanced attack.  It means that you are LESS reliant on just two or three people to generate kills.  We were able to show SFA's balance by also calculating the spread in the kill totals for the SFA leaders and showing it is one of the lowest in the league.  This proves SFA has had a more uniform or even distribution of attacks compared to the league due to the low spread in these numbers. Sam Houston's standard deviation is much higher than any other Southland club.

With Sam Houston, you know what you are going to get:  A WHOLE LOT of Jordan Vaughn, Brooke White and Taylor Cunningham.  With SFA, one night it might be Haley Coleman leading the way.  The next night it could be Danae Daron or Makenzee Hanna.  Another night, Corin Evans might put up a double-double. Mixed in all of that is the chance for Peyton Redmond to get 10 kills like she did last night or maybe Anyia Williams will put up big numbers.

It is clear we have two different winning formulas for two different clubs.  Enjoy watching both of these teams in the final week of the season and in the Southland Conference Tournament.  It sure will be interesting to see which style of offense can succeed the most in November.