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Manning in Year 2: The Numbers From Tulsa

Let's take a look at the numbers to see what Danny Manning did so well at Tulsa, and what that might mean for the upcoming season at Wake Forest.

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The Wake Forest men’s basketball team officially opens its second season under head coach Danny Manning tonight. To mark the occasion, we decided to take a look at the year-over-year numbers from his two seasons at Tulsa. Of course, we’re working with a small sample size here: Manning is entering just his fourth year as a head basketball coach. These numbers certainly can’t predict exactly how the 2015-2016 Wake basketball season will turn out, but they may offer some insight on which parts of the game we might look to for improvement this year.

I've pulled together these numbers from two sources: and the end-of-year KenPom rankings. I looked over the stats in 51 categories, so in the interest of time I'll focus on the ones that stood out (generally picking the few stats that showed the highest % changes in either direction). Just to give a quick sense of the bigger picture, the team improved in 39/51 categories.


Let's start out by looking at some of the more holistic stats from KenPom. These charts will also include the figures for last year's Wake team, for easier comparison.

Tulsa (Year 1) Tulsa (Year 2) Wake (Year 1)
2013 Value 2013 Rank 2014 Value 2014 Rank 2015 Value 2015 Rank
KP Pyth 0.4572 178th 0.7233 73rd 0.5789 124th
KP AdjO 97.9 223rd 104.7 167th 104 127th
KP AdjD 99.4 137th 96.3 30th 101.2 137th
KP AdjT 67.7 88th 68.2 79th 68.6 26th

The Pythagorean Rating predicts the odds of beating an average D1 program. The AdjO and AdjD reflect points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for the quality of opponents. The last line is adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes).

Overall, Manning's Tulsa teams made a big jump between years 1 and 2; improving over 100 spots in the KenPom rankings (178 to 73). The squad went from being a slight underdog against average D-1 competition (46% chance of winning) to a solid favorite (72% chance of winning). The team went from being a middling defense to an excellent one (137th to 30th). On offense, the team went from bad to middling (223th to 167th). However, it looks like that offensive improvement was the main reason for the team's overall success. The team improved its adjusted margin by 9.9 net points (from -1.5 to 8.8), and 6.8 of those points came on offense. The team also increased tempo, but barely.


Tulsa (Year 1) Tulsa (Year 2) Wake (Year 1)
2013 Value 2013 Rank 2014 Value 2014 Rank % Change 2015 Value 2015 Rank
FTA 767 37th 894 30th 16.60% 751 67th
2PA 1162 199th 1296 99th 11.50% 1195 142nd
AST 389 209th 427 135th 9.80% 451 96th
TOV 484 290th 395 164th -18.40% 428 246th
Opp STL 250 304th 200 184th -20.00% 260 344th

What was at the root of the improved offense in Manning's second year at Tulsa? Apparently, taking care of the ball. The team cut its turnovers by 18%, including giving up 20% fewer steals. This allowed a team which already excelled at getting to the free throw line to get there 17% more often, and to shoot 12% more two pointers. The team also recorded 10% more assists. I left out from the chart stats that didn't show much movement. For example, FT%, FG%, and 2PT% all went up by less than 1 percentage point, while 3PT% fell by less than one percentage point. The offense did not improve by shooting better, but by taking care of the ball and getting off more shots.


Tulsa (Year 1) Tulsa (Year 2) Wake (Year 1)
2013 Value 2013 Rank 2014 Value 2014 Rank % Change 2015 Value 2015 Rank
BLK 101 206th 127 137th 25.70% 123 132nd
Opp FTA 750 312th 869 322nd 15.90% 645 166th
Opp TOV 431 179th 477 41st 10.70% 379 255th
STL 213 181st 232 76th 8.90% 208 151st
Opp 3PA 678 298th 620 223rd -8.60% 645 237th
Opp AST 455 278th 372 78th -18.20% 429 255th

On the offensive side, it was easy to see that cutting down on turnovers was the key to the team's improvement. On defense, it's not so clear. Getting 26% more blocks is a big percentage jump, but it translates to less than one additional blocked shot per game.

Instead, it looks like the team generally improved by simply playing more aggressive defense, particularly on the perimeter. They forced 11% more turnovers, including 9% more steals. Opponents attempted 9% fewer three pointers, and recorded 18% fewer assists. It's not shown in the chart, but opponents shot 4% more two pointers and their shooting percentage on those shots fell by 5%. This suggests they were forced to settle for contested two pointers. More aggressive defense by Manning's second team could also help explain why opponents shot 16% more free throws that year.


Tulsa made a big jump between Manning's first and second years, going from 17-16 to 21-13 and jumping over 100 spots in the KenPom rankings. Unfortunately, we can't just apply the statistical improvements at Tulsa to the situation at Wake Forest. There are so many variables at play, and the sample size is about as small as it gets. Plus, not all of these figures are adjusted by opponents, and Tulsa didn't do battle in the ACC.

Still, the numbers should give Wake fans some hope for areas of improvement. The fact that Manning's offense at Tulsa improved primarily by cutting down turnovers is potentially good news. The worst category ranking for last year's team was opponent steals: Wake gave up 260 steals last season, placing it 344th out of 351 schools. That's only 10 more steals than Manning's first Tulsa team gave up, and it was the single biggest area of improvement in his second year there. Wake fans will be looking to see if the 17 first half turnovers against Pembroke was a fluke and not the norm.

On defense, we can look to see if Manning is able to implement tougher, more aggressive defense across the board. Wake was ranked 308th in opponent 2PT percentage, at just over 51%. Opponent 2PT% was the best statistical category for Manning's second Tulsa team at 43%, 21st in the country.

One thing to keep in mind is that the second year numbers at Tulsa shown here are as they stood at the end of the 34 game season. I'd expect any improvements to be gradual over the course of the year, and not sudden over the off-season. This is particularly true since at least two, and possibly three, freshmen will be seeing serious minutes this season. Manning's second Tulsa team was not particularly old (three seniors on the roster, only one of whom cracked top 6 in minutes), but they also only featured three freshmen, who averaged 5.7, .5, and .03 minutes per game. That means the stats were almost exclusively earned by players who were in the second year in his system.

Will Danny Manning be able to replicate these offensive and defensive successes in the upcoming season? I would be surprised if he matches the improvements he made in year 2 at Tulsa. Nonetheless, the areas he revamped at Tulsa are the same areas in which Wake desperately needs to improve. If he can make significant strides in those parts of the game, this team should be much better than it was last year.