Coach Jim Larranaga is one of the most intriguing coaches in all of NCAA basketball. Peter Keating did a profile on Coach L in ESPN The Magazine last month, focusing on his use of statistics to help with establishing performance measures for his teams. Larranaga was an economics major back at Providence College, where he also scored over a 1,000 points on the basketball court. Larranaga attributes his success in coaching through the ranks of NCAA D1 schools (inclduing his great run at GMU) to analytics. See the article Download ESPN The Magazine_2012_ In the interest of full disclosure I was interviewed for the article, and even quoted -- perhaps one of my most cherished citations!!!! Though what I was cited for is not a full reflection of what we talked about, but the discussion of Coach L's defensive system which is discussed was something I talked about in-depth (but so would anyone who follows the game closely).
Coaches for years have been utilizing various statistics to help assess individual performance and improve team success. Coach L also uses various measures to help in putting his team together. Among my personal favorites, is the statistics concerning scores off the pass versus scores off the dribble to assess your teams offensive ball movement. See the thing that can kill your offense is lack of ball movement and in contemporary basketball what we call "first side threes". Instead, you want the ball to move, perferably at least 3 sides of the floor (e.g., right, center, left) before a shot, and you would like to play the game inside-out, rather than outside-in. Getting your players to consistently play that way, however, is not as easy as it sounds.
Burried inside the article, however, is a great example of how Coach L utilizes incentives to try to get his players to play the way he wants them to. Last season (while Coach L was still at GMU), U of Miami was a team prone to turnovers. Coach L does not tolerate his teams being that careless with the ball. So when he started working with the team this year, one of the first things he did was to let them scrimmage but with a rack of 12 balls on the sideline. Whenever a turnover was committed, Coach L would remove a ball from the rack. When the rack was empty, the players had to run without a ball for the time remaining whether that was 5 minutes, or 2 hours. At first, the players continued to be careless with the ball and scrimmages turned into pure conditioning rather quickly. But it didn't take long, and the players started to take care of the ball. Coach L calls this "incentive thinking".
As any coach/teacher knows, such "incentive thinking" is essential to getting your players/students to do what you want them to do.
UPDATE: U of Miami had a strong season with victories over Duke and ACC champs Florida State. They didn't get a bid to the NCAA, but competed in the NIT. Last night their season came to an end with a 20-13 record with a loss to U of Minn. Still a very strong start to the Larranaga era at U of Miami.