When I look back on my career as a college basketball reporter, there are individual seasons that stand out in my memory.
Tim Winn in 2000, leading the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team to its first NCAA Tournament bid in 22 years through sheer will and defense. J.R. Bremer leading the nation in scoring for most of the 2002 season. D.J. Rivera and Tiki Mayben leading Binghamton to the NCAAs in 2009.
But how much does my memory match with reality?
As I’ve gotten more involved with studying and teaching analytics and data journalism, I decided to look back at the teams I covered to see what the numbers would show about the players I covered in my 10-year career. I wanted to know — who had the single-best individual season I covered?
It’s a bit of a challenge. Obviously, the traditional individual stats (points, rebounds, assists) are incomplete. It’s also impossible to grade individual seasons simply on those stats. But going back nearly 20 years, the advance statistics that are now readily available aren’t filled in for past teams. Certainly not for St. Bonaventure and Binghamton.
So I used the Win Shares stat compiled at College Basketball Reference. Win Shares is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his offense and defense. It’s not a perfect stat (efficiency stats like PER are much better at evaluating a player’s all-around game), but we make the best with the data we have. For reference, the NCAA record for Win Shares (since 1996) is Kevin Love’s 11.29 for UCLA in 2008.
Using Win Shares, here are the top-10 individual seasons I covered between 1999-2009:
This was, to be honest, shocking. Reggie Fuller was a very good player on that Binghamton University team, but he was third or fourth down the line by traditional stats. But his combination of offense and defense made him the most valuable by win shares.
Likewise, Kevin Houston was a very good player for St. Bonaventure for one season. A transfer from Miami, he helped lead the Bonnies to the NIT the year after their NCAA Tournament bid, turning a potential rebuilding year in to a successful one. Three of the seasons I remember vividly — D.J. Rivera in 2009, Tim Winn in 2000, J.R. Bremer in 2002 — are represented, but not at the top.
But straight Win Shares didn’t feel accurate. It obviously favors teams that do well — the more wins a team has, the more Win Shares a player can accumulate. But that means a player who has a great individual season for a lousy or average team is devalued.
So I came up with Win Shares Percentage, where I divided a players’ individual Win Shares by the team’s total victories that year. Here are the top-10 seasons I covered using that metric:
It’s an interesting difference. Only five of the 10 seasons appear on both.
Marques Green was a very good player on a couple of very bad St. Bonaventure teams. In 2003, he was the best player on a team that won 13 games before scandal struck. In 2004, he was the only good player on a 7-win team. These stats reflect how important Green was to those teams, and to how good a player he was on some truly bad teams.
In 2003, Green averaged 21.3 points, 8.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.6 steals per game. His season was first overall in Win Shares Percentage and tied for sixth in overall Win Shares.
By this measure, that may rank as the best individual season I covered.
Coming later this week — career win shares. What player I covered had the best overall career.