Posted by Eric Angevine
When I heard one basketball analyst tout Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough for Big East Player of the Year this week, I was able to dismiss it as one man’s opinion.
Last night, during Cincinnati’s takedown of Louisville, I heard it again, this time from Fran Fraschilla. The former coach knows his business very well, and I always give extra weight to his opinions, because I think he considers his words carefully and backs them with a lifetime’s experience in the game.
So, it’s officially a trend. Let’s look at Ben Hansbrough’s bona fides, because they will have to be pretty good to overcome Kemba Walker’s push to be national POY, let alone lord of the Big East. Here are the traditional metrics by which such things are measured.
Looking at these numbers, Walker pretty clearly comes out ahead, which should come as a surprise to nobody who's watched him dominate games. Where some possible cracks start to show is in those last three percentage-based numbers, which belong to Hansbrough. They point to a possible lack of efficiency (in everything but passing) that could come from Walker's sheer volume of minutes played with a less experienced supporting cast than what Hansbrough has to draw on.
So, let's go tempo-free, courtesy of Basketball State, and see how these two warriors match up in efficiency-based metrics. We're looking at points per 40 minutes (P/40), points per weighted shot (PPWS), effective field goal percentage (eFG), usage rate (URt), efficiency per possession (Eff/Pos), and what percentage of his team's points each player scores (Impact). Explanations of these stats can be found in BBState's stats primer.
For me, this is kind of like the use of instant replay in the NFL. I came in here with Kemba Walker ahead by virtue of the eyeball test, and I see nothing here to overturn the verdict of my peepers. I will, however, have to admit that it's not a runaway performance by Walker, and that Hansbrough's numbers hold up pretty well. It's not ridiculous to include him in the discussion at all, especially since Notre Dame (10-3) is winning league games more consistently than UConn (8-5). When the two played head-to-head in South Bend on January 4, Walker scored 19 and Hansbrough had 21 in a close win for the Irish. It's worth mentioning that Walker shot 23 times and only made 8 with Hansbrough hounding him on defense in that early conference matchup.
For now, my vote's still with Kemba in the Big East. Ben Hansbrough still has a couple of weeks left -- including a huge season-ending trip to Connecticut on March 5 -- to change my mind.