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Analytics help Penguins prepare

Staff photo / John Vargo Paul Molinari, YSU men’s basketball director of basketball operations, works on a spreadsheet after a recent game.

YOUNGSTOWN — Paul Molinari sits down at a rectangular table. In front of him is a laptop with a spreadsheet. Beside the Youngstown State University men’s basketball director of basketball operations is another sheet with categories and numbers.

Some are highlighted in yellow, others are in red emanating from the glow of the laptop. The yellow is a positive, while red is deemed negative.

Reading the statistics is what analytics is about, not the horrific stigma perceived in connection with the Cleveland Browns.

These statistics are about learning and getting better for the Penguins. Molinari grades the film after every game and shares the information with coach Jerrod Calhoun and his assistants.

They’ll have individual and team charts, looking at things like defensive field-goal percentage and rebounding efficiency. Percentage goals have to be met.

For instance, defensive rebounding efficiency is the number of defensive rebounds that your team grabs, and adds the opponent’s offensive rebounds. For example, if there were 25 defensive rebounds and 10 opponent offensive rebounds, you would have succeeded on 25 of the 35 opportunities, which equals 75 percent — a good benchmark for a team.

The Penguins have been good at contesting shots this year as well. Deflections, steals, blocks, charges and dives are all important. A lot of that is computed through statistics, but Molinari said he has to go through the tape and look for deflections and those sort of things.

Danny Reese, the YSU men’s basketball director of player personnel, said the team uses a couple of different programs in this process to get the information to the coaches, so they can get it to the players.

“Anything to get an edge,” said Reese, whose YSU team (13-11, 6-5 Horizon League) hosts Cleveland State (9-15, 5-6) tonight at 6. “There’s so much information out there. It’s almost a loss if you don’t look it up and make sure you know what you’re doing. Maybe it’s a point we want to drive home with the guys. This further emphasizes it.”

How do Reese and Molinari translate the statistics to the coaches so they can explain it to the players?

“I have to do a good job of explaining, of saying to coach and him reiterating the message to the guys,” Reese said. “Keep it as simple as possible and a few numbers and as few words that we can use, the better.”

Geoff Hamperian, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, said it’s good to see how each player performed — the pluses and minuses.

“I think it’s important to learn from your mistakes, but build on your successes too,” he said. “See what areas of improvement you need.”

This is based on the defense YSU implemented this year, in which the Penguins were at one time holding teams to around 67 points per game. The Penguins are very successful this season when they hold teams to 70 or fewer points.

Hamperian said it made his team more connected and the extra practices during the summer helped as well, preparing for the exhibition games in mid-August.

“We focus on the defensive analytics,” Hamperian said. “There’s a lot people don’t know about. When it gets shown to us after every game, you know where the improvement needs to be and what things you’re doing well.

“It gives you an idea of what you need to work on.”

Defense has improved for YSU, but other things like getting to the free-throw line more is something else which has spiked — the data has shown. That has resonated with the players in the translation through the coaching staff.

“Sometimes when it’s said in a different way it’ll click a little bit better instead of the same old rebounding,” Reese said. “You’re looking at numbers. When you’re looking at percentages, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, that really stands out.’ It’s kind of a different way to look at it.

“Hopefully they’re understanding it. It seems like they do.”

Molinari, who spent time as an assistant coach at Winthrop, Fairmont State, Cleveland State and Wichita State, said analytics has helped teams improve throughout the years.

“We did a little bit of this through my years,” Molinari said. “The team goals were the same. We had a standard of how many turnovers or how many 3s you were going to give up, or defensive 3-point percentage. Not as much individual. A lot of people did plus/minus and they would take a box score. Now it’s all done for you. It’s a little bit different. As I came through the system, everyone would take a scoresheet, plus/minus and do it that way. Now it’s all calculated for you at the end of the game.

“Now with computers and technology you can do a lot of this. We used to do shot charts by hand. Nowadays shot charts are done on a computer for you. It just takes a lot less time. I think some of the same ideas were there. It was difficult to calculate all that stuff and turn it around.”

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