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Minnesota Basketball-Previewing the Season with BT Powerhouse

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Yesterday, I recorded a podcast with Thomas Beindit for the BT Powerhouse preview. We discussed the upcoming season, depth chart, expectations, and whether or not Richard Pitino is going to be fired.

Two apologies. One, I apologize for the very loud audio change around the nine minute mark. I blame my connection. Two, I apologize for some annoying verbal pauses throughout.

I wanted to expand a bit on one point that was made repeatedly during the podcast. Richard Pitino’s biggest problem at Minnesota has not been recruiting. With the signing today of Jamir Harris, the Gophers will once again have a solid recruiting class. They will for the third year in a row have a consensus top 75 recruit. The problem that Minnesota faces is not a dearth of talent, whatever people would like to say about Bakary Konate. The problem is development of that talent.

Since the NIT winning season, Pitino’s teams have struggled to make shots and defend. Statistically speaking, they have gotten worse at every phase of the game each of the last two years. At the same time, recruiting services indicate that the talent level to work with has improved. Why this discrepancy? It’s the coaching.

This is a weirdly controversial statement, so consider this a preview and an open call for help for some work that will come to the blog in October. In the SABRmetrics literature, there is an open question as to how important coaches are to overall team success. Much of this literature that is most developed looks at baseball, where the value of a manager is somewhere around 2 wins in either direction. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any similar work for men’s basketball coaches. Ken Pomeroy wrote a cursory piece in 2014 that generally defined good and bad in game coaching, but stopped there.

How then might we go about evaluating what makes a good coach? That is, how would we create a WAR for coaches? Conceptually, we want to evaluate how good a basketball team be with a totally average coach, but answering that question requires us to evaluate what makes an average coach. I submit that there are three facets for a good coach in college basketball. They have to be a good recruiter. They have to win close to every game they are expected to win, and they should be a good in game coach. Each one of these has some weight, though the first two should be weighted higher.

Pitino is a good recruiter. He is not a good in-game coach, and it’s an open question how often he wins games that he is expected to win. Since absent a tournament run, Minnesota is looking for a new coach, it may also be interesting to evaluate other coaches to see who might be an unexpected value pick. (Hint. It’s Ben Jacobson).