Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Best College Player You Never Heard Of?

The one in blue, not the one in red.

I've been working on my new Senior Prospects Metric (SPM), which is basically a convoluted math formula designed to put a value on a senior prospect for the WNBA draft. The point is to take someone's junior year college statistics and project what kind of a player they'll be.

In 2008, it was Candace Parker who got the highest value from the SPM. In 2009, it was Courtney Paris. (Angel McCoughtry was #5.) In 2010 it's...

...Brittany Pittman of Morehead State? Who the hell is that?

Morehead State University is a school located in Morehead, KY. It plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, one of the weakest conferences around.

Right now, the web site for the Eagles is in transition - a sign of moving up? The roster website doesn't work on all browsers - it wasn't functional but work. So let's talk a little about Brittany Pittman:

* She shoots .496 from the field. Okay. But there are lots of players who shoot better.
* She averages 11.9 points a game. Okay.
* She has a nice rebounding rate of 292 rebounds over 29 games, with 111 of those being offensive rebounds. She's probably a forward or center, then.
* She has 41 steals. That's great for a forward or a center. Having 50 blocks and 50 steals in a season is usually a sure-fire sign of NBA success; it might be the same for the WNBA.
* She has 164 blocked shots.

What? What was that number again? 164 blocked shots? It turns out that Pittman leads the country in blocked shots. And she's only a 6'3" center. Egad. Either the competition is very weak indeed in OVC, or Pittman has something going for her.

Look at her blocks per game over the 2008-09 season. You'd think we were reading about Britney Griner instead of Brittany Pittman.

So what do we know about Brittany Pittman? She played at Middle Tennessee State briefly, sat out a year, and then started up at Morehead State. We do know that she was born in December 1986, which makes her a full year older and then some from most of the 2010 WNBA Draft Prospects, so her stats reflect those of a more mature player. However, the SPM accounts for age and even with the formula docking points for age, Pittman still comes out on top of the #2 player, Jessica Breland of North Carolina.

Her old bio is still up at MTSU. Her high school accomplishments, although nice, don't imply that she was ever all-anything. "Voted All-Region three times...Played on the Kentucky All-Stars in 2005...five year letter winner at Tates Creek High School...." Nothing like "#1 Prospect on" or "Parade All-American".

According to Morehead State's own newspaper, she doesn't even get credit from her own coach. "In a recent interview, other than a brief acknowledgment of Pittman's skill for blocking shots, (Coach Mike) Bradbury negated everything she has done." (Although in another article her coach says very good things about her.)

So why is the SPM so high on Brittany Pittman?

The SPM believes that there are three skills you should have: the ability to block shots, to rebound, and to steal the ball. For those most part, those are defensive skills. If the SPM were a person, she would probably say, "Pet, I don't think you can teach defense. All of those factors take the ball out of the enemy's hands and put the ball in your team's hands."

Okay, so she can block. So could Marlies Gipson. Yeah, true that, but the SPM put Marlies Gipson at #39, which is pretty close to where she was drafted - i.e., she wasn't drafted at all. The SPM says Pittman has more dimensions than Gipson.

Obviously, the SPM only looks at stats, and not the player. Someone with real knowledge can take a look at Pittman in person and see if she's any good or not. But this begs the question: "How weak is the Ohio Valley Conference?"

One argument against Pittman's high score could be that she fattened that block record against chumps, the same way Mickey in Rocky III blew up Balboa's record by having him fight nobodies. (Then he met Clubber Lang.) The only name opponent that Morehead State played in the 2008-09 season was Louisville, then ranked #13. Like Clubber Lang in Rocky III, Louisville administed a 66-38 beatdown of the Eagles.

She still blocked eight shots, though. And she had seven rebounds. However, she was held to 1-for-4 shooting in 24 minutes of play, scoring two points. (Angel McCoughtry, however, scored 17 points and 12 rebounds.)

But can you really blame that loss on Brittany Pittman, goes the counter-argument? Chynna Bozeman went 1-for-14 in shooting, and that could have been what killed Morehead State. Tiffanie Stephens went 1-for-9 off the bench. For all we know, Louisville's entire strategy might have been "make sure Pittman doesn't have a good game". The problem wasn't that Brittany Pittman wasn't shooting, the problem was that her supporting cast is terrible compared to that of a Big East contender. Part of the problem of being a great player on a team from a weak conference is that by defintion the people around you aren't contenders, and this is why your team either never goes to the post season or loses to the Connecticuts and Stanfords of the world in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

If you look at the 2009 WNBA Draft, there is a real prejudice towards the major conferences: The Big East, Big 10 and Pac 10, ACC, SEC and Big 12. There were 39 positions in the 2009 WNBA draft.

First round: 12 of 13 players from major conferences.
Second round: 10 of 13 players from major conferences. Two foreign players.
Third round: 9 of 13 players from major conferences. One foreign player.

In short, of the 36 players from the United States, 31 of those were from BCS conferences. The ones that weren't.

Quanitra Hollingsworth (Virginia Commonwealth): 1st round - playing for Minnesota
Megan Frazee (Liberty): 2nd round - playing for San Antonio
Josephine Owino (Union): 3rd round - cut
Jessica Adair (George Washington): 3rd round - cut
Britney Jordan (Texas A&M Commerce): 3rd round - cut

Verily, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a player from the mid-majors (or lower) to get a look in the WNBA. I'm wondering if I should use the SPM to dock several points from a player for not belonging to a BCS conference. However, I feel that that would be unjust - the metric shouldn't reflect prejudices of WNBA GMs.

And this is what pisses me off the most about the case of Brittany Pittman. It's not that she might not be good enough to be in the WNBA - hell, there are lots of players who, if a trained eye takes a look, just clearly don't have what it takes. What pisses me off is the thought that people will assume she's bad automatically because she's from a small school and not bother to look at all. The WNBA can't afford to overlook talent, even if it might possibly come from Morehead State University, a school with all of 9,000 students.

P. S.: I hope to have the complete values of the SPM out by tomorrow.


ATLDreamFan17 said...

I enjoy blogs like this. I don't follow college basketball closely but I do hear about top players. Its nice to hear about players who could potentially come into the W and do well even when they've stayed under the radar.

pilight said...

She might be the next Sandora Irvin!

Seriously, in WCBB there's a significant talent dropoff from the majors to the mid-majors. Even more than in the men's game. You should discount mid-majors in your metric.

DeeDee12 said...

Hey I agree. Even though I have a tendency of not seizing the opportunity of watching smaller colleges. I know that your article was immaculately written. I salute you, because you are absolutely right. Hope this will get the attention of other scouts and GM's.