LAFAYETTE — Armed with a laptop and a set of login credentials, Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball video coordinator Ryan Welty has the college basketball world at his fingertips.
A few keystrokes here, and he has video access to every right-handed drive that Louisiana Tech star guard Alex Hamilton has made this season, as well as the correlating success rates of those drives. A click of the mouse there, and he has a full breakdown of how effective Ragin’ Cajuns forward Shawn Long is shooting 3-pointers against a zone defense. What’s more, that information is ready immediately.
Welcome to the instantaneous information era of college basketball. With the help of advanced metrics websites like KenPom.com and video scouting services like Synergy Sports, the Cajuns are one of an increasing number of teams seeking to gain an edge based on in-depth statistics and probable outcomes.
Welty shows the power of the tools at his disposal. It’s Thursday, and he’s preparing a 10-minute scouting video — what the coaches call an “edit” — for the players in advance of Saturday’s contest against Louisiana Tech. He opens up the Synergy Sports portal and looks for something glaring.
“So let’s go with Alex Hamilton, their best player. It’ll tell you everything he likes to do,” Welty said.
Welty pulls up Hamilton’s file, then breaks it down into specifics: which hand he most frequently drives with, which offensive sets he performs best in, his go-to spots and the frequency of different types of shots.
“He’s very good in the pick-and-roll,” Welty said. “Then it even goes down to his shot attempts: 39 percent of the time it’s going to be a jump shot. If he’s driving, it’ll be a runner.”
This is all information that assistant coach Gus Hauser uses when he puts together the scouting package. The Cajuns break up scouting duties among their assistants, and Hauser drew the Louisiana Tech and UCLA assignments.
Hauser sits at the computer with Welty and also looks over a ream of KenPom.com printouts that break down how both the Cajuns and Bulldogs perform on a per-possession basis. He’ll use these tools to compile a complete scouting report on the opponent — trends for top players, top offensive sets and situations — that he disseminates to the players and coaching staff.
It’s a completely different world now than the one Hauser started in as a graduate assistant on Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville a little more than a decade ago.
“We had nothing like this,” Hauser said. “You went through every game and labeled every clip, especially a guy like Pitino. It might be a set, so you have a set action; it might just be a right-hand drive.
“Let’s say on that particular play you have an assist by a point guard, a right-hand drive by a wingman, then you had an offensive action. So you’d clip that play three times and order it based on what happened — same on a defensive clip.”
That process, for one game, would take hours for Hauser to complete. In addition to the depth of understanding it provides, the instant access to an entire season’s worth of information, as well as the pre-charted results, has allowed assistants more time to spend on coaching or recruiting, the grunt work largely eliminated.
Ken Pomeroy, founder of KenPom.com, started his site roughly the same time Hauser was breaking in at Louisville. What started as a hobby quickly turned into something else as coaches started using it during their scouting reports, popularizing it in postgame news conferences.
KenPom ranks each Division I team by its per-possession statistics. For example: Heading into Saturday’s game, the Cajuns were ranked 11th in adjusted tempo, which is possessions per 40 minutes adjusted for the opponent.
“I’m just trying to look at the opportunities that a team or a player has to do something,” Pomeroy said. “People talk about advanced stats, and they think of complicated formulas and you need an advanced math degree or whatever, but that’s really not it. It’s more about just trying to isolate when a player or a team has an opportunity to do something, how well do they do it?”
Brad Stevens famously leaned on KenPom as part of his pregame preparation, and his success in taking tiny Butler to back-to-back national title games shined some light on Pomeroy’s work. Every year, Pomeroy said, more teams are interested in taking a more analytical approach.
But even Pomeroy will tell you the rise in the use of analytics is only a small part of the basketball operation.
“(Stevens) was one of the first coaches that was really aggressive with diving into advanced stats,” Pomeroy said. “He hired someone specifically to analyze statistics and help with planning and preparation of the scout before each game. But obviously there’s successes and failures among people who have used analytics. It gives you a very, very slight edge. It’s not going to make everybody a winner like Brad; he’s got a lot of other things going for him that have helped him.”
Advanced stats also can’t tell the full tale. Hauser said the coaching staff gathered in the basketball offices after Wednesday’s McNeese State win to watch most of Louisiana Tech’s game against Jackson State; plucked video clips and per-possession statistics can’t describe the flow of the game.
“If you just get up here and you watch it possession by possession, you don’t get a feel for how they play,” Hauser said.
The coaches also must guard against an avalanche of information. The video edits are never longer than 10 minutes, and only the most pertinent information is included in the scouting reports. The game is too fast to have players running through all the possible permutations as they’re closing on a highly athletic opponent.
The hope is that, when they’re closing, it’s one small item from the scouting report that sticks out in their head: Take away the right hand; leave the 3-pointer open.
“Less is more,” Hauser said. “We talk about that all the time ... and I think that’s true. The game happens so quick that you don’t have time to overkill scouting.”
The good thing is that now the scouting can be done just as quickly.