NCAA Tournament: Getting to know the setters

Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon athletics

Nate Ngo | Performance Analyst for the U.S. Men’s National Team

Coming into the NCAA Tournament, here is a quick look at the setters orchestrating their teams’ offenses. This analysis is centered around team attack efficiency, but only when each setter is setting from a positive serve reception (usually the majority of their sets).

Graphic by Nate Ngo

In this first plot, the goal is to show the difference between team attack efficiencies when playing ranked versus unranked opponents (based on the most recent AVCA poll). Each setter is represented by a starting point (team efficiency against unranked opponents) and an end point (team efficiency against ranked opponents), the latter of which is labeled. The arrow indicates the direction of the change. As one would expect, most of the changes are down (more errors) and to the left (less kills), but Hawai’i’s Jakob Thelle and Ohio State’s Michael Wright are the two exceptions, both with a higher kill percentage against ranked teams. Note that the end points for these setters correspond well with their team’s seeding.

Graphic by Nate Ngo

Aggregated data like this is good for getting a quick, general idea of what we’re trying to understand, but tends to obscure the match-to-match variance of performance. But now, let’s take a look at the same data, but in a way that shows individual match performance, and how that stacked up all season for each of these setters. In the histograms below, each setter’s individual match performances are tallied up by In System Team Attack Efficiency against ranked (blue) and unranked (red) teams. The vertical dotted line is at .355, the median In System Team Attack Efficiency for all setters this season in NCAA men’s volleyball. As you would expect for teams that have made it to the NCAA Tournament, the majority of each setter’s matches are above the median line, with the exception of Jack Sarnowski of King. But for those with a short memory, you only need to look to last year’s tournament for a reminder to not sleep on the Conference Carolinas champion. Aside from the top 3 of UCLA/Hawai’i/Penn State, I’d keep an eye on Nic Slight and Grand Canyon to make some noise in this tournament.

For the teams that have made it this far, In System offense is certainly a key factor in their success. It also goes to show how important using the serve to prevent a team from being In System is – relying on defense is difficult in this situation, as evidenced by these top teams’ offenses.

Editor’s Note: Nate Ngo is the Performance Analyst for the U.S. Men’s National Team. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of Off the Block.