While some people have complained about the lack of offense in NCAA Basketball this year, I don’t think anyone can complain about the lack of clutch shots and wild buzzer beaters we’ve seen. Several games in recent weeks have come down to tremendous, last-second plays (Gonzaga-Butler, Indiana-Michigan, Indiana-Illinois) and many more this season (53 by my count) have featured a game-winning or game-tying shot in the last 15 seconds.
Outside of looking at pure offensive totals (points, wins, etc.) fans and pundits alike enjoy debating a player’s “clutch” factor as part of an overall argument over which team or player is best. I am a firm believer that clutch is simply a combination of already-existing talent mixed with the right circumstances (if a player is so good, why did he need a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win? Players and teams don’t get bonus “clutch” points for comfortably winning by 15). This was one of the key ideas behind the creation of the SevenOvertimes method – after playing for 59 minutes – a desperation shot at the end of the game should not change how we think about and analyze the entire game. As crushing as a defeat (or exciting as a win) can be, we need to look at the entire game when judging it.
With that said, it is still interesting to look and see which players have been the most productive in the clutch all year – and which plays have been the most clutch this season.
Note: My main metric for looking at the importance of a play is Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA is simply the difference between the expected Win Probability before a play, and then after. For example – if a Team is Down 2 with 30 seconds left (20% Win Probability) and Up 1 with 20 seconds left (65% Win Probability) then the WPA of the made 3 pointer is 45%. Also, this current system only looks at scoring plays – so key offensive rebounds, or stops, or turnovers are not part of the calculation. This greatly overrates pure scorers while ignoring some of the contributions of other players.
Most Clutch Plays
There have been three plays this season featuring a WPA over 60%. The first was a 3-pointer (when down 2) by Tony Snell of New Mexico to beat George Mason on November 18th, the second was a 3-pointer by Stefan Moody of FAU to beat American University a week later, and the most recent was Michael Snaer’s shot against Maryland on January 30th. Also impressive about Snaer’s is that he hit another buzzer-beater (breaking a tie as opposed to going from winning to losing) a week earlier against Clemson.
The Win Probability Graph from the Florida St – Maryland game can be seen below. Maryland was basically leading the entire time – and Snaer’s shot took the Seminoles from a likely loss to a nearly guaranteed win.
A 3-pointer at the buzzer is one of the most dramatic plays in basketball – but like I alluded to before – it’s mostly a matter of circumstance (watch this non-highlight to see what I mean). If a player consistently hit shots during the game, he may not need the dramatic “clutch” shots like Snaer to be valuable to his team. With that in mind, I found the seven players with the most plays with a WPA over 10%.
Most Clutch Plays (WPA over 10%)
While all of these players are high scorers (and some are household names), one name mysteriously missing from that list is Nate Wolters of South Dakota St. (who scored a season-high 53 points Thursday).
Most Clutch Games
With a WPA of 60% on one play, Michael Snaer’s Cumulative WPA for the Maryland game was 105%. Surprisingly, that ranked exactly 100th as the most Cumulative WPA in a single game. The highest Cumulative WPA was accomplished by Jud Dillard of Tennessee Tech (34 & 12 in 2-pt win over Coastal Carolina) but the best performance on the biggest stage goes to Roosevelt Jones against Gonzaga. In addition to his buzzer beater (40% WPA), he also had three huge jump shots in the last eight minutes, and finished with 20 points (on 10 shots), five rebounds, and four assists.
Cumulative WPA (In a Game Featuring Two Top 30 Teams)