Hustle Recap: NCAA Women’s and Men’s Basketball Championships

Focus, an app designed to measure hustle, was built by Mark Adams and Jeff Van Fleet, co-authors of The Coach & The Geek: Building a Kick-butt Culture. It was designed with intention to measure concentration and effort instead of traditional analytics based on talent or performance. During the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball championship games, The Coach & The Geek used Focus to evaluate each team on one hustle behavior believed to drive results for that team. Check out their findings!

NCAA Women’s Championship Game

Arizona vs. Stanford

Arizona was evaluated as an active pressure man-to-man defensive team. They were most effective when they had active hands, challenged shots, and forced missed shots and turnovers.

Our hypothesis: If the Wildcats played with active hands defensively, they could disrupt Stanford’s efficient offense and give their team the best chance to win the NCAA Championship.

Typically, teams who execute near 80% in hustle stats give their teams a better chance to win. Early in the game, Fous tracked Arizona and observed soft close outs vs. Cardinal shooters. They were only at 33% for active close outs with high hands. On the other hand, Stanford plays a sagging pack line defense. We evaluated the defensive positioning of the Cardinals – it doesn’t take talent to be in the right place at the right time, but it does take concentration and effort. For the entire game, Stanford players were in position over 80% of the time, resulting in Arizona shooting only 28% FG and 27% 3PT. Arizona improved dramatically after halftime, becoming much more active and playing with a renewed emphasis on active hands and challenging shots – they had a long stretch of 83% hustle during the second half! That effort resulted in 21 Stanford TOs for the game.

Hustle, concentration, and effort led the 2nd half comeback for the Wildcats.

Ultimately, Stanford won the game 54-53. Why? Stanford was much more consistent in their one hustle stat, resulting in Arizona forcing shots while Stanford was in position 80% of the time to challenge those shots. Focus showed Arizona approached 50% for active hands and challenging shots, but what if they had been more consistent throughout the game? We believe with a little more hustle in that one stat, the outcome would’ve been different.

NCAA Men’s Championship Game

Gonzaga vs. Baylor

The day before this game, Mark did an interview with Peter Burke and Katie George on a national ESPN radio show, during which they asked him to predict the winner. He told them that both teams were supremely efficient on offense as the Zags were #1 in the nation in Field goal % (54.9%) and points per game (91.6 PPG), while Baylor was #1 in 3PT FG% (41.1%). Based on our research of each team’s offensive tendencies, we know that both teams score a majority of their points from the perimeter – Baylor at 82% and Gonzaga at 58%. Therefore, challenging shots, especially from the perimeter, was predictably crucial. Mark shared with Peter and Katie that Baylor was the better team when it came to challenging shots based on his observations during the Final Four game against Houston. He also observed that Gonzaga, and in particular, Drew Timme, often defended with their hands down.

Our hypothesis: If Gonzaga doesn’t match Baylor’s concentration and effort in challenging shots, it would be a long night for Gonzaga.

Focus showed the Zags at 40% for challenging shots during the whole game. Baylor, by comparison, graded out at 70% for the game. In the first half, when the Bears clearly took control, they challenged shots at 79% and took a 10-point lead into halftime. On game strategy interested us most – Baylor ran high ball screens to force Gonzaga to switch. Running those screens over and over again forced Drew Timme to defend one of Baylor’s most talented guards. As we mentioned in our pre-game research, we knew Timme lacked the concentration and effort to challenge shots with hands up. Timme was exposed, only challenging shots 33% of the time.

Hustle stats are a new way to analyze the game. The key is to identify specific behaviors that can be clearly defined, then hold players accountable by measuring their individual and collective performances over time.

Focus provides an efficient way to collect, track, and communicate the value of hustle stats, while defining expectations. It encourages coaches to be intentional while defining what it really means to play hard and play smart. Stanford and Baylor did both, and it led them to become NCAA National Basketball Champions!

Curious about Focus? Learn more here!