Moneyball: EWU Men’s Basketball Using Statistical App

Taking a page straight out of Moneyball, a book, subsequently turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt, about Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane’s approach to statistical analysis of players in fielding a team, Eastern Washington University’s men’s basketball team and computer science department have teamed up to create an application for in-game tracking of squads of players.

As part of their senior capstone class in computer science, students under the direction of long-time professor Steven Simmons are working on real-world computer applications that will be used by the university and community at large. Not only are they learning how to code, debug and deliver a product to clients on a deadline, they’re meeting and working with area professionals – people who could become future employers in the very near future.

One team is creating an online game that teachers can use to deliver content and lessons to their students on historical events, while another is working on a sensitive-information scanner for the university’s Office of Information Technology department.

The group consisting of Jeff Butler (team leader), William Clark, Michael Holcomb, Kylie Martonik and Samwel Sitienei is working with the EWU men’s basketball team to develop an app that analyzes and quantifies game data in an effort to make better coaching decisions during crunch time. It’s an endeavor filled with multiple statistics across numerous combinations of players and within a dynamic time and space setting. This kind of information is available at the pro level, but isn’t something used by college teams.

“Typically you have an aggregate of statistics that shows how a team and individuals did over a half or an entire game,” said Sam Boynton, an EWU grad student and assistant coach on the men’s basketball team, who came up the idea and has worked with Simmons and his students on the app’s development. “What this does is try to quantify teamwork by measuring how different groups of five players, instead of individuals, play together in real time.”

The program, created as an application for use on Android and iOS platforms, is called EagleShots and has been in development since the end of last spring when Boynton brought the idea to Simmons with the blessings of head coach Jim Hayford – someone who strongly believes in data-driven decision-making. Using an iPad, Boynton inputs a plethora of information as it takes place. The backbone of the program is based on four theories outlined by Dean Oliver, a former Division III basketball player with a PhD in statistical applications, in his book Basketball on Paper:

  • Adjusted field goal percentage
  • Turnover rate
  • Free throw rate
  • Offensive rebound percentage

By inputting the different variables, including substitutions, especially over multiple games, the coaching staff can begin to see statistical patterns in different combinations of players on the court. The app outputs the top- and bottom-three squad combinations for those four categories, overall data and a season-output (over multiple games to date). That information can be accessed in real time, during a timeout, to determine the best combination of players to put on the court for any given scenario or against various opposing lineups.

“We couldn’t get this information without this app,” said Boynton, who has been testing the program and suggesting changes, just as real-world client would, during four games so far this season. “Even after just a few games we’ve been able to see some cool patterns and statistics emerge.”

The team of developers are in the debugging stage and will present to the professional advisory board on Feb. 21, which consists of Spokane-area community member that are involved in computer science field. During finals week, the team will give a final report to the entire computer science faculty, the clients and the professional advisory board.