It’s common to hear from coaches and analysts that no one call or no one play was the difference in the game. In theory, that’s correct. A made free throw when the score is 5-5 counts the same as a made free-throw when the score is 65-65. Reality doesn’t work that way though. The importance of any one particular play or bucket is relative to the score and to the time left.
No stat goes further to measure this than baseball’s Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA calculates the exact numerical value that any one at bat/action had on the odds of a team winning or losing. Take the WPA chart from this past World Series’ Game 7.
Anyone with eyes can tell you a game-tying 2-run homer in the bottom of the 8th is super important. You don’t need fancy stats for an obvious, history-changing at bat (it added 40.5% points to the Indian’s win probability). Same for Ben Zobrist’s run-scoring double (it added 31.9% points to the Cub’s win probability). But if I offered you $1 billion dollars, would you have been able to correctly identify the 3rd most impactful play (in terms of WPA) from Game 7? Not me. It turned out to be Jason Heyward’s stolen base in the top of the 9th inning and subsequent advancement to 3rd on a throwing error. Because Heyward didn’t end up scoring, this portion isn’t even featured in the 2-hour World Series commemorative DVD.
But enough baseball. In getting to watch the Marquette win over Georgia on my computer 20 hours after the fact, with the benefit of the outcome known, and KenPom at my disposal, I was freed to be stat hunting in real time. When Georgia roared to within 2-points with 7-minutes left in the second half, I was able to match up Hauser’s momentum-killing 6 points with KenPom’s Win Probability chart for a bit of home-cooked WPA.
The And-1 alone added about 13% points to Marquette’s probability to win, while the subsequent 3-pointer added around 5% points more. So in 2 possessions, Hauser had increased Marquette’s expectant win ration by almost 1/5th.That’s huge.
So like I stated, above, anyone can tell you those were some really big shots Hauser made, but being able to put a number to it allows us to compare it to other moments in other games. It turns out Hauser’s And-1 was the second most impactful “shot” of the season to date by a Marquette player. The only possession worth more was Andrew Rowsey drawing a 3-shot foul against Pitt with under-3 to play, and nailing all 3 freebies to tie the score at 75. That possession added about 24% points of WPA.
Unfortunately, KenPom does not yet log WPA outside of the gamechart, making it difficult and time consuming to measure against other teams or even other seasons. I have written a letter to Santa asking for it for Christmas, so we’ll see what magic Mr. Pomeroy can cook up in the future.
Sticking with Hauser’s performance against Georgia, those 6 points may have swung the game back into Marquette’s control, but his performance was so much more than those 2 possessions. Hauser led the team in scoring and rebounding, logging 30 minutes, including a number of them against one of the best PFs in the country in Yante Maten. This is not normal and needs to be highlighted. Sam is playing at a Henry-esque level in terms of production, with unrivaled efficiency. His ORtg of 139.1 is a top-20 mark in the country. His usage is still low right now, which helps prop up efficiency a bit, but is not a knock on him whatsover.
Sam plays within the offense, meaning he isn’t bombing away 3s at inopportune times, which as the best long distance shooter, he might be within his right to do. He doesn’t force attempts or try to create lanes when they aren’t there. He’s fundamentally sound, anticipates the play well, and has one of the sweetest strokes in the game. This isn’t a 1-game sample any more, either. He’s 10-22 from long distance against high-major opposition, scoring 44 points in 83 minutes.
I bring all this up because there was a little taster of something we might see a bit more of this season, and might see a lot more in the coming years. With 3 fouls on Fischer and 2 on Heldt, Wojo turned to Hauser at the 5 for 2:34 in the first half. In that time Marquette was +4, going from a tie game to a 4-point lead. The offense was sizzling during that stretch. It turned 5 possessions into 10 points, scoring on all but 1. And on that one, Haanif Chatham had a good look 3-feet from the basket, drawing some contact in the process (though no foul). The defense was active, with Rowsey nabbing a particularly impressive rebound when he stripped Maten, and Reinhardt holding his own in the post against a much bigger opponent.
The “Death Lineup” is all the rage in the NBA, having all 5 players on the court not only capable of hitting from deep but comfortable operating with the basketball. The Warriors came within a blown 3-1 lead of claiming back to back titles with it, but even with much smaller components, still isn’t seen much at the college level. (Buzz may have been ahead of his time with Lazar at the 5 in 2010, though that was more necessity than choice). That makes it a risky proposition to play in long stretches, as you are working particularly hard on D and are putting the remainder of your “bigs” in jeopardy of fouling.
In any case, Marquette did not use it in the second half, as Heldt and Fischer stayed foul-free and the moment didn’t call for a smaller lineup. But having seen it succeed against an opponent with a dominating big like Maten makes it a bit more likely that we will see more and more stretches of it as the season goes on.
With the win, Marquette has put itself in position to control its own NCAA destiny without having to have an out of body experience come Big East play. Beat Fresno on Tuesday and a Wisconsin win becomes frosting, rather than the cake itself. Hauser has proven he will be one of the key cogs along with Fischer, Johnson and Cheatham this season.
If we get the chance to look back in March at moments that propelled this team to postseason play for the first time, Hauser’s back to back possessions will loom large. Don’t just take my word for it, the WPA tells the story.