The importance of studying college basketball box scores


The college basketball season has started with a lot of barking dogs. Dogs have been profitable back-to-back nights. Outright upsets haven’t been quite as plentiful, but there have been a lot of big scares for big favorites to open up the season.

You really have to force yourself not to read too much into one data point. A lot of things can happen in one game, especially the opener, that are not indicative of future performance. Every team will play its best game and worst game at some point and if that that one game happens to be the opener, you’ll wish you hadn’t put too much stock in it.


What you want to do is look back at the box score and find out why that game played out the way it did.

Here are a few examples:

Northern Illinois 71, Washington 64

Northern Illinois was getting a healthy 19.5 points on Tuesday night against Washington. Washington employs a zone defense that head coach Mike Hopkins brought with him from Syracuse. The zone, inherently, can be susceptible to upsets if teams shoot well. Northern Illinois shot really well.

The NIU Huskies were 12-of-23 from 3-point range, while the Washington Huskies shot just 3-of-18. UDub also left 15 points out there on 36 free throw attempts. NIU only made 9-of-25 2-point shots, but made it rain from deep. Washington only made 20 shots total on 75 attempts.

Washington had 27(!!) offensive rebounds to just four for NIU. Maybe Washington shouldn’t have covered the 19.5, but truly should not have lost this game. Washington was 7-for-40 on mid-range jump shots, so they took a lot of low-percentage shots and I’ll remember that for the future, but they missed all three dunk attempts and simply had an awful shooting night.

Washington is -15 against Northern Arizona tonight. Let’s see if they bounce back.


Rutgers 73, Lehigh 70 (OT)

Rutgers needed overtime to beat Lehigh on Wednesday night as a 20.5-point favorite. We can all agree that shouldn’t happen, but it did, and here’s a big reason why. Rutgers was 1-of-13 from 3-point range in that game. The Scarlet Knights were only 37.5% from the floor overall, but Lehigh was 12 in the 3-point department while going only 5-of-16.

The Scarlet Knights were never going to cover, and they aren’t a gifted shooting team, but I assure you that they won’t have another game this season with one made 3-pointer. Rutgers had 15 more shot attempts and made the same number of shots that Lehigh did.

Generally speaking, these near-upsets are going to feature some outliers that aren’t necessarily predictive. Rutgers draws Merrimack on Saturday, so let’s see how the market reacts to that first game.


Wyoming 85, Detroit 47

Similarly, let’s consider the opposite side of the spectrum. Wyoming was just -5 against Detroit, but beat the Titans by 38 points last night. The Cowboys led by 19 after one and won the second half by 19 as well.

Wyoming shot 54.8% from the floor and Detroit only wound up at 31%. It was just one of those days where nothing fell for the Titans. What I love about Bart Torvik’s box scores is that they break the shots down into sections, so “Dunk”, “Rim”, “Mid”, and then 2s and 3s. Wyoming was 18-of-26 at the rim. Detroit was 6-of-12. The Cowboys got to the rack. To me, I start looking at Detroit’s upcoming games and see if they’re able to force teams away from the high-percentage scoring areas.

The hoops season is early, but don’t just take results at surface value. Read into the why and how of what happened and you should be able to start creating profiles of teams as we go forward.