Photo credit: Neil Redmond, Freelancer
The trip to Frisco, Texas for the Conference USA tournament was a short one as Charlotte fell to MTSU by the score of 66-65, after leading by as many as 13 in the first half. The decision by Nick McDevitt to get out of man-to-man and go to full-court trapping zone changed the game. Ultimately Charlotte didn’t make enough plays in the end to secure the win, and are one-and-done again in Frisco.
This post will be predicated on data, I’ll put aside my personal feelings on things to be as unbiased as possible.
The image below is from Bart Torvik’s site and shows the national rank of Charlotte under Ron Sanchez over the 5 years here in various categories. Green is good, red is bad. Ultimately you want to be closer to 1 than 363 (which is last). The only category where rank doesn’t impact your effectiveness is when looking at ADJ T. (adjusted tempo).
The case for Ron Sanchez
For the first time since 2013 and 2014 seasons (Alan major era), Charlotte has posted back-to-back winning seasons. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 2005 and 2006 under Bobby Lutz. Ever since Charlotte was booted out of Conference USA for not having a football program, Charlotte has simply failed to have any semblance of consistency — outside of being inconsistent — on the hardwood.
When looking at data on BartTorvik.com, it’s pretty clear this was the best/most efficient squad (overall) Sanchez has put on the out in his 5 seasons here. Adjusted offensive efficiency is currently 126th in the country, besting last year’s 127th ranking (other years were 241, 277 and 321). This team was the 2nd best defense so far under Sanchez, currently 138th overall in adjusted defensive efficiency, year 2 produced an 88th overall ranking.
Ron Sanchez and his staff have assembled impactful talent with Brice Williams and Aly Khalifa via HS recruiting efforts (we can include Jahmir Young here, though he’s now with Maryland, he was a great get). Isaiah Folkes is developing, his defensive prowess is notable, but so are his flaws offensively to this point in time. Jackson Threadgill has potential and talent, though for whatever reason, the consistency just isn’t there yet. There’s not enough minutes to effectively assess Nik Graves (FR) and Daylen Berry (RS FR). Rich Rolf redshirted this season and currently Charlotte has 1 signed recruit for 2023 class: Nick Richart, a 6’9 F/C from Zionsville (OH). Richart held offers from: Charlotte, Air Force, Columbia, Illinois State and Morehead State.
Transfers are a key piece in today’s era, and they’ve recruited well in the portal. Lu’Cye Patterson and Montre’ Gipson were immediate impact players this year, but much like the team as a whole, they were inconsistent as well. Igor Milicic Jr. fits that mold too. He looked great early in the season, but after having the flu and missing some time, he wasn’t the same player. The talent is there and he’s still young, so from a consistency standpoint, there’s room to grow. Robert Braswell missed a majority of this season with a hand/wrist injury, he’s a guy that can stretch the floor but tends to get lost too often on defense. Musa Jallow can’t stay healthy enough to make an impact on the court. Josh Aldrich is a serviceable backup big man, but his eligibility is now exhausted.
Charlotte’s offense produced a top 25 ranking this season for both effective field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage. The overall effectiveness on this end though is limited due to Charlotte’s unwillingness to attack offensive rebounds (more on this in next section).
A recent data point that has come into play for college hoops is the NET ranking. It’s an area that the NCAA committee uses when evaluating at-large teams, seeding, etc. Over the past 3 seasons Charlotte has trended upward in the NET rankings, going from 231 (2021) to 188 (2022), and are currently up to 114 this season.
There are signs of improvement under Sanchez this year. Is it enough after 5 years to prove he’s the guy as we move into a tougher American Athletic Conference?
The case against Ron Sanchez
Sanchez was hired due to his knowledge of the pack line defense that has propelled Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers into the upper echelon of college hoops. To this point in time, the data shows that his teams have not had a great defensive season yet. Transparency, I’d consider a top-50 defense to fit into this criterion, but your views might be more-or-less stringent. As previously stated, 2020 was the best adjusted defensive efficiency rating at 88th overall. Long gone are the days of looking at points allowed per game to look at how “good” a defense is. If you look at that, Charlotte is currently 20th best, only allowing 62.8 points per game, but factoring in Charlotte’s pace of play (2nd slowed adjusted tempo in the country), Charlotte slides down the rankings.
We discussed Charlotte’s top-25 rankings offensively, but the strategy to not attack the offensive glass puts Sanchez teams near the bottom of the nation in offensive rebounding rate. The assumed strategy here is to get back defensively to set up the defense instead of hunting second-change opportunities. This year Charlotte was 331st (out of 363) in offensive rebounding rate, and the prior year’s Charlotte has been 320, 323, 332 and 332 (again). It’s clearly not a lack of ability to be this consistent in this area, it has to be by design. This can pay dividends, but when coupled with a non-elite defense, it’s an area that can be argued to its overall impact on team performance.
Let’s take a look at the overall record for Ron Sanchez.
The overall record is sub .500. The most concerning areas are the sub .500 conference record, and the inability to win away from Halton Arena. After 5 years Sanchez has zero wins in the Conference USA tournament.
Charlotte alumni and fan, Justin Houston, shared a graphic/stat on Twitter that echos the woes Charlotte has experienced in the conference tournament:
Mike Hill talks about “competing for championships” and has since his introductory press conference. That simply hasn’t materialized, and Charlotte hasn’t been close through 5 years. We often hear Sanchez discuss “learning and growing”, as well as “the journey”, and playing your best ball late in the season. That’s another area where the data just isn’t where you want it to be. After 5 years, Sanchez teams are 5-10 in the month of March. That certainly generates its own style of madness.
We’ve not been in the position to discuss resume come March, but looking at Q1, Q2, etc. games have merit. Below is a chart in how Charlotte has fared in these games under Sanchez over his 5 years.
The numbers here speak for themselves, Charlotte has feasted on poor teams over the past 5 seasons. 60% of Sanchez wins have been against Q4 teams, while only 9% have been against Q1 and Q2 teams.
There’s data on both sides of the fence here, but now we wait. Just kidding, more like we have an insane amount of discussions around the possibilities of Ron Sanchez being retained or fired, and what it means to the future of the Charlotte 49ers program.
Mike Hill does not seem to be a rash decision maker, nor should he be. If anything happens regarding Ron Sanchez status as the head coach, I’d expect to find out no later than Monday evening.