In my post looking back at the MSU basketball roster over the last 13 years, I asserted that depth is a key component for a Tom Izzo-coached team to be successful. This is, of course, not an original conclusion. The Artist Formerly Known as the Big Ten Wonk (TAFKATBTW) in a November 2006 post:
Let’s define “Izzo depth” as seven players each getting between about 40 and 70 percent of the minutes. As seen here, the 2005 team had Izzo depth. The 2006 team–while featuring three demonstrably more talented players than any member of the 2005 team–did not. The first went to the Final Four. The second lost in the first round. And there you have a neat little parable on talent vs. team. (Note to high school coaches everywhere: feel free to use this. And tell the kids to read up on their Big Ten Wonk.)
When Izzo has seven or eight players he trusts–whether by virtue of their experience or talent–he can both demand human-wave effort (including and especially on the boards) and parcel out minutes in a way to make said effort continuous and overwhelming to the opponent. (This is a particular stylistic preference of Izzo’s, mind you, not an immutable law of hoops. Illinois in 2005, to cite but one example, went 37-2 with a minutes distribution that looked a lot like MSU’s in 2006.)
My goal in this post is merely to refine TAFKATBTW’s methodology. His rule of thumb (7 players playing between 40 and 70 percent of a team’s minutes) is a decent one, but it’s a binary function. And, I’d note, the 2004-05 team was the only Izzo team to meet the standard (it’s the only team on which the top player played less than 70 percent of the minutes available).
So I propose a new stat to measure Izzo depth. Let’s call it “depth ratio.”
Depth Ratio = (minutes played by top two players) / (minutes played by 8th and 9th players)
This ratio allows us to compare a single number across different teams and captures two key aspects of having depth:
- Not relying too heavily on one or two players to play nearly all of the minutes in important games, thereby reducing their ability to defend, rebound, and push the ball in transition with the intensity Izzo prefers.
- Having enough bench players to allow everyone to play hard every minute they’re on the floor and be able to deal with foul trouble. Nearly every basketball team has to have seven guys who play significant minutes (five starters plus one perimeter bench player and one interior bench player). Having two more bench players you can count on is what sets a good Izzo team apart from other teams.
Here’s MSU’s depth ratio in conference play, along with their Big Ten and NCAA results, for the last 12 years (statsheet.com only goes back to 1996-97, so we’re missing Izzo’s first season–no big loss). Remember: The lower the depth ratio number, the better. I’ve sorted the seasons based on the ratio–lowest to highest.
|2002-03||2.35||10 – 6||Elite 8|
|1998-99||2.62||15 -1||Final 4|
|1999-2000||2.67||13 – 3||Nat Champ|
|2004-05||2.74||13 – 3||Final 4|
|2007-08||2.90||12 – 4||Sweet 16|
|1997-98||2.91||13 – 3||Sweet 16|
|2000-01||2.93||13 – 3||Final 4|
|2001-02||3.14||10 – 6||1st Rd Loss|
|1996-97||3.28||,9 – 9||—|
|2006-07||3.96||8 – 8||2nd Rd Loss|
|2003-04||4.39||12 – 4||1st Rd Loss|
|2005-06||4.51||8 – 8||1st Rd Loss|
How do you like them apples? (Scouts honor: I came up with the ratio formula before I looked at the data). The magic line is 3.00. Every team with a ratio under 3.00 has sported a winning record in conference play and advanced to at least the Sweet Sixteen. Of the five teams with ratios above 3.00, three had .500 records in conference play and none advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
A depth ratio of 3.00 would be achieved by a team whose top two players play 30 minutes per game and whose 8th and 9th players play 10 minutes per game. Here are some examples of the actual minutes/game figures for a few past Spartan teams in conference play (minutes per game is based on team games played, even if a player missed one or more games):
2002-03 (Best Depth Ratio)
- 1 – Hill: 31.8
- 2 – Torbert:31.3
- 8 – Lorbek: 14.4
- 9 – Bograkos: 12.3
1999-2000 (National Champions)
- 1 – Cleaves: 29.8
- 2 – Granger: 29.3
- 8 – Richardson: 13.1
- 9 – Thomas: 12.1
2004-05 (Good Depth Cited in Wonk Post)
- 1 – Anderson: 27.8
- 2 – Davis: 26.3
- 8 – Trannon: 11.4
- 9 – Bograkos: 8.3
2003-04 (Second Worst Ratio)
- 1 – Hill: 32.6
- 2 – Torbert: 29.9
- 8 – Bograkos: 8.2
- 9 – Trannon – 6.9
2005-06 (Worst Ratio; Bad Depth Cited in Wonk Post)
- 1 – Brown: 36.2
- 2 – Neitzel: 34.8
- 8 – Suton: 9.8
- 9 – Rowley: 8.3
Note that part of the difference between 2003-04 and 2004-05 was that Izzo was willing to use Bograkos and Trannon for an additional 2-3 minutes/game. So it’s not necessarily that the 8th and 9th guys have to be major-talent guys. They just have to be able to defend, rebound, and take care of the ball long enough to give your starters substantial minutes to rest. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if your 8th guy is a future NBA star, ala Jason Richardson in 1999-2000.
(Note that Bograkos played 12 minutes/game during the good-depth 2002-03 season, but only 8 minutes/game in the bad-depth 2003-04 season. That’s because the lack of depth in 2003-04 was among the big men; Ager, Torbert, and Brown were available at the wing position.)
As a final note, the ex-Wonk was right about the unique nature of the importance of depth to Izzo-coached teams. He cited the example of the 2004-05 Illinois team (national finalist); that team had a depth ratio of 4.06, which would be disastrous for an Izzo team. For those who might complain that Izzo doesn’t recruit enough NBA-level talent, it’s important realize that he’d have to completely rework his on-court philosophy to deal with the regular roster turnover that other top programs experience when their players leave early for the pros.