By Kurt Bullard
It’s perhaps the best and worst weekend of the year. The cream of the crop has risen in the NCAA Tournament, culminating in the three most high-stakes games of the year. There are a lot of interesting story lines: Gonzaga finally got over the hump and into the Final Four, the fact that Frank Martin’s vocal chords are still intact four games into the tourney, among others. But come Monday night, college basketball will all but vanish into thin air for the foreseeable future.
While both games are fascinating matchups, the one that catches my eye the most is the UNC-Oregon tilt. Both teams are uber-athletic, have top-20 offensive and defensive units, and feature the ACC and Pac-12 POYs. In a matchup of elite offensive and defensive units, the ability to control the board may be crucial in deciding who comes out on top. For North Carolina, that may be great news. North Carolina is the best offensive rebounding team and the 22nd-best defensive rebounding team, per KenPom. However, those raw numbers may understate how dominant UNC is on the glass.
Using raw percentages can lead to questionable results. For example, New Hampshire is the “best” defensive rebounding team in the country according to KenPom. However, if any major conference team were to walk into Lundholm Gym in Durham, New Hampshire, they might look like the Monstars compared to the Wildcats.
Thus, I wanted to create an adjusted rebounding metric that took this into account. Using box score data from this past year, I ran two separate regressions—one to determine ORB strength, and one to determine DRB strength. For each game in the 2017 season, I calculated each team’s offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. I then created a dummy matrix for each team, with the team of interest coded as 1, and the opponent coded as -1. I also included a variable that designates whether the game was home, away, or at a neutral site for the team of interest.
The regression yielded two coefficients for each team, which I standardized and then plotted on the graph below. The further up a team is on the graph, the better the team is at offensive rebounding. The same relationship exists for a team being further right and its defensive rebounding ability.
It’s UNC and then the rest of the country. No team even approaches UNC’s ability to control the boards. It’s defensive and offensive rebounding coefficients both hover around 3.5 (where 0 would be around league-average). No other team goes above 2.5 in either category. Oregon, on the other hand, has a defensive coefficient of 0.04 and an offensive coefficient of 0.48, nowhere near UNC’s dominating performance on the board.
If Oregon can’t mitigate UNC’s huge rebounding advantage today, it may be a long day for the Ducks.