Brad Stevens gets an edge for Butler from stats guru

Brad Stevens relies o Drew Cannon's statistical analysis. (John Bazemore / AP)

Brad Stevens relies on Drew Cannon’s statistical analysis. (John Bazemore / AP)

Drew Cannon doesn’t stand out among the folks keeping stats at any Butler basketball game. He can’t tape ankles or draw plays or calm the coach, so just what does Drew Cannon do?

Cannon is Stevens’s numbers whisperer, an MBA student who is believed to be the first “pure statistics-based hire college basketball staff,” SI.com’s Pete Thamel writes. Cannon hasn’t played since his days on an intramural Norse Forse team, but Stevens found value in the way he crunched stats.  Although even his father asked when Cannon was hired if Stevens “understood how monumentally under-qualified” he was, the hire has paid off for Butler.

In reality, Cannon’s experience in scouting and analyzing data has made him the perfect match with the numbers-savvy Butler program. Stevens, a longtime proponent of advanced statistical metrics, said if he had unlimited resources he would create his own statistics division. For now, he has Cannon and gushes about how his research has shaped lineups, substitution patterns and converted the staff’s statistical skeptics.

“It’s been very impactful, there’s no question about it,” Stevens said. “He’s really an invaluable resource.”

Cannon can’t coach players and admits the Xs and Os aspect of the game has overwhelmed him at times. (The Norse Forse, apparently, didn’t run a lot of set plays.)
What makes Cannon’s value tricky to quantify is that he and Stevens are reluctant to share many specifics of his research. There are simple things he does like keep practice statistics, track the efficiency of specific set plays and the statistical tendencies of opponents.

But as far as the in-depth statistical analysis, Stevens gave only a peek as to not forfeit an edge. Cannon sends Stevens a 10-page e-mail breaking down and analyzing the numbers after every Butler game. The report takes 10 to 12 hours for Cannon to put together.

Cannon’s greatest value is with lineup analysis, as Stevens terms his work “unreal.” “It includes every player, pairs of players, groups of three, big lineups, small lineups, etc.,” Stevens said. Cannon will also include the offensive and defensive efficiency of Butler’s players from previous matchups with an opponent, which Stevens said, “Will help me determine probable sub patterns, late game lineups, etc.”

Wonder how his bracket is doing …

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