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March Madness Stats Guru Talks 2016 Numbers

A self-professed basketball junkie, David Worlock would probably be watching tons of college basketball games even if it wasn’t part of his job. As the NCAA’s director of media coordination and statistics and the media coordinator for March Madness, it is part of his job.

Worlock oversees a staff that updates statistics on a daily basis for 40-plus NCAA sports, puts together record books and game programs, and manages the media operations for all 90 NCAA championships.

Keeping up with the statistics that are important to college basketball is a big part of that job. The NCAA tracked statistics this season to see how offseason rule changes — including a 30-second shot clock and new rules on fouls — would affect the game.

“Last year (2014-15), our scoring took a dive we hadn’t seen in quite some time,” Worlock said last week. “It was a disturbing trend. The number of fouls has gone up because of the way the game is officiated, but the positive sign is most of the scoring can be attributed to more made baskets rather than more made free throws.”

Worlock said this season’s scoring averaging (73 points per game) is about eight percent higher than last year (67.6 points), and other numbers have also improved, such as field-goal percentage, three-point shooting, free-throw percentage, number of possessions and offensive efficiency. 

“We would like to see a multi-year improvement (in those stats),” Worlock said. “I think the game is much better. The feedback from coaches, media and fans have said it’s a better game the way it was played this year. We’re trying to achieve balance offensively and defensively.”

Worlock said he watches dozens of games each week throughout the basketball season, not only to keep up with the state of the game but also to assist the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Committee members also watch games throughout the season, keeping an eye on national matchups while being assigned to monitor certain conferences.

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“I’m watching games on TV all the time,” Worlock said. “For one, I enjoy it. And it helps me be prepared to assist the committee. The more information we have about teams, the more we can assist the committee during selections.”

That information goes beyond basic stats, Worlock said. Injuries, suspensions and deeper breakdown of statistic data help the selection committee fill its bracket.

“We have statistics (like scoring, rebounds and assists), but there’s a deeper analytical part of the game that has become more and more prominent over the years,” Worlock said. “We can’t rely strictly on watching games. We have to look at computer metrics and have conversations with people.”

RPI used to be a primary source for the selection committee, but other metrics — like offensive and defensive efficiency — have become more popular in helping pick the 36 teams to join the tournament’s 32 automatic qualifiers.

Worlock has seen college teams spend more time with statistical analysis, too.

“It’s an important part of the game,” he said. “Some people want to completely dismiss it and some people probably go overboard and have complete reliance on those things. Me personally, I think there’s a middle ground there in having that data.”

All the data and analysis still can’t predict the outcomes of March Madness.

“We have a volume of games and we’re bound to get some level of excitement, but we always have an abundance of excitement,” Worlock said. “That’s why it’s called Madness, and there’s no other sporting event like it.

“That’s the beauty of a single-game elimination tournament involving so many quality teams.”

Although statistical analysis can help, it likely never would have predicted the upsets and wild finishes during the first weekend of this year’s tournament, which featured 10 double-digit seeds winning in the first round and an NCAA-record six ACC teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

Data couldn’t have prepared Northern Iowa to hit a game-winning half-court shot to beat Texas — believed to be the first in the NCAA Tournament since 1981 — or for a record-breaking collapse against Texas A&M two days later. Worlock said the Aggies’ rally — erasing a 12-point deficit in the final 44 seconds — is the biggest comeback in college basketball history.

“There are dozens of examples that teams have to go through to prepare (for tournament games),” Worlock said. “Maybe analytics help but obviously it goes deeper than that.

“Some people just have it. Their performance is better when there is more on the line. Those kind of players emerge in March Madness all the time.”

From GameChanger and Tom Glave.

Basketball, Basketball Stats & Scorekeeping