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A Statistical Analysis Using +/- To Show Why Wake Forest Should Play Fewer Three-Guard Lineups

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Using data to back up what we all feel through 19 games.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

There has been a lot of discussion amongst media, fans, and others surrounding the three-guard and four-guard lineups that Danny Manning and the staff have chosen to run this season

With the help of the beautiful website that Adam Bridgers produced early on in the season, I have gone through and looked at the +/- behind these lineups to see what we can discern.

Let me run through some bullet points before I dive into this because I know there will be questions asked:

  • First of all —- although I am sure that it will come across a certain way, I do not in any way, shape, or form mean this article to insult or be critical of any Wake Forest basketball player specifically. This is simply meant to look at the information out there that is available and come to a conclusion about why something is or is not working. I intentionally avoid calling out specific players in these pieces for a reason and if I am going to talk about anybody it better be backed up with statistics and data.
  • Adam assures me that these +/- numbers are roughly correct, and usually corresponds well to other websites. That doesn’t mean that they are perfect, but are very close to what is actually occurring on the court.
  • When I say “three-guard” or “four-guard” lineup I am strictly referring to lineups featuring at least three or more of: Bryant Crawford, Brandon Childress, Keyshawn Woods, and Mitchell Wilbekin. Anytime I reference a “three-guard” or “four-guard” lineup in this article it means that 3 or 4 of the aforementioned players are on the court at the same time. I understand and agree that Chaundee Brown could/should be considered a guard, but in this article he is not. Go ahead and debate that how you would like.
  • I do not think Plus/Minus is the best way to determine what a player brings to the team, but since we are nearly 20 games into the season it is likely smoothing out a bit and able to indicate at least something when a player is on the court. Since we have seen over 160 unique lineups from Coach Manning this season there is data available for nearly every combination possible out there.
  • The analysis and conclusions at the end are based solely on the +/- and offers some possible suggestions as to why the numbers come out the way they do.

Statistics

Here is the breakdown of three-guard+ base lineups on the season. I didn’t list every single lineup that features a different 4 (PF) or 5 (C) because there are a ton of them, so I broke them down into base sets of 3 guard and 4 guard players:

Basically there are four different three-guard base lineups, and one four-guard base lineup (where they all play).

Analysis of Statistics

The first thing that sticks out is that there have been approximately 505 minutes worth of lineups that have featured at least three-guards. That includes 28 minutes of four-guard lineups.

Wake Forest has played 19 games with no overtime, so that is 760 minutes total for the season.

That means there have been three-guard+ lineups in 66% of all minutes played this season involving the four guards mentioned above. 33-34% of the minutes have been played with two or fewer of the guards listed above.

On the season overall Wake Forest is +24 in scoring margin, which is somewhat odd for a team that is currently 8-11.

In the 66% minutes of three-guard+ lineups Wake Forest is -199. In the 33% of the minutes of three-guard- lineups Wake Forest is +223 in scoring margin.

I couldn’t believe this when I checked it the first time, so I went into the individual +/- to see if that backed up what the original stats were telling me.

Here are the top five players by individual +/-:

  1. Doral Moore +65
  2. Chaundee Brown +59
  3. Donovan Mitchell +51
  4. Melo Eggleston +20
  5. Terrence Thompson +15

The guards come in at:

6. Bryant Crawford +15

10. Keyshawn Woods 0

14. Mitchell Wilbekin -14

15. Brandon Childress -15

So through 19 games only one of the four guards that we are examining here are in positive +/-, while two are in negative +/-.

Here is another chart, detailing the minutes played for each player and how it breaks down as far as points for and points against when they are on the court:

Conclusion

From a purely +/- vantage point these stats indicate that Wake Forest should play fewer three-guard lineups and instead look to a more traditional 2 guard, 2 forward, 1 center lineup.

I do not believe that Wake should cut out three-guard lineups completely though.

Aside from it not being feasible for 40 minutes given the roster makeup to play only two-guard lineups, there are lineups with each of the three-guard bases where Wake Forest is successful and in the positive, which means there are certain three-guard lineups that Coach Manning and the staff should continue to play at times.

For example, the following lineups are all in the positive in +/- on the year:

  • Chill - Woods - Wilbekin - Thompson - Moore (+25, best on the team)
  • Crawford- Woods- Wilbekin - Brown - Moore (+15, 3rd best on the team)
  • Chill - Crawford - Woods - Mitchell - Moore (+15, 3rd best on the team)
  • Chill - Crawford - Wilbekin - Sarr- Moore (+6, 12th best on the team)

Each one of these lineups represents one of the four possible bases with three-guards in a different combination, and they are all in the positive on the season. There are situations and lineups and variations that can be successful on the court if utilized correctly.

Once again, I am clearly stating here that I DO NOT believe that Wake should go entire games without playing three-guard lineups, I think that this strategy just needs to be utilized much less than it is currently.

One thing that is pretty clear is that Wake Forest should almost never go to a four-guard lineup. It is -42 on the season in 28 minutes and only one lineup is in the positive (which was for 59 seconds and oddly enough Chaundee Brown was the other player on the team).

Everything that is “felt” by fans when the four-guard lineup comes in is pretty true, as it has scored 38 points and allowed 80 in 28 minutes. That is really, really bad.

A big question is why there is such a big discrepancy between lineups featuring three-guards+ and lineups featuring fewer than three guards? I think there is one pretty good answer: DEFENSE, which primarily comes from being small at the 1, 2, and 3 positions when in a three-guard lineup.

It comes as no surprise that the top 5 guys in +/- are all reasonably good on defense. On a team that has struggled immensely on defense, the guards are clearly a weak spot there.

I hate to put it this bluntly, but of the four guards there is no one guard who has the size, effort, and lateral foot speed necessary to compete night in and night out in the ACC. Most have at least two out of the three qualities needed, but none of them possesses all three attributes.

In addition to that, when there are at least three guards in the game Wake Forest is almost always undersized at the 1-3 positions. According to KenPom, the Deacs rank the following in the nation in height based on minutes played at the PG-SF positions:

PG - 164th (11th in the ACC) (+0.3)

SG - 201st (14th in the ACC) (-0.1)

SF - 304th (14th in the ACC) (-1.1)

Defense usually correlates reasonably well to effective and average height, and the Deacs are undersized at all three of these positions relative to ACC opponents.

N.C. State ranks 15th in average height at the SG and SF position and is ranked behind Wake in defensive efficiency right now, the worst two teams in the league excluding Pitt (who is the worst at offensive and defensive efficiency).

If there is anything here that you guys want to see or if you think I have missed the boat on this analysis then please let me know and I will do my best to explain or justify why I did something/feel a certain way.

I’m interested to hear from you in the comment section about this, or anything else in relation to the three-guard lineup that you have seen.

Appreciate the long read and the continued support. Go Deacs!