Warrington students assist UF basketball program with analytics projects

As analytics grow in popularity and usage across basketball at all levels, UF Warrington students spent the spring semester working directly with the Florida Gators basketball program on analytics projects that can help head coach Todd Golden and his staff.  

The student teams were able to present their findings directly to UF basketball Director of Basketball Strategy and Analytics Jonathan Safir. Before the presentations, Golden welcomed the students, thanked them for their work on the projects and spoke about the important role analytics play in the way his program assesses all areas, from recruiting evaluations with high school players or players in the transfer portal to how they build their non-conference schedules each season and many areas in between.

Golden also took questions from students and shared insight on how he was introduced to analytics as a walk-on player at Saint Mary’s College, shaping the type of programs he has built as a head coach.

“In every part of our program, we’re trying to collect data and analyze it to be the most efficient we can be,” Golden told the students. “It’s an incredibly important part of our program.”

Student groups spent the semester using analytics to shed light on project topics —  one focusing on name, image and likeness trends, another attempting to measure player performance and improvement trends, and the final presentation focused on the value of a replacement player.

Liam Helie (modeler), Andrew Lenneberg (domain expert), Kent Phipps (data scientist), Gowtham Wudaru (data analyst) and Lauren Zhu (data engineer) made up the team that worked on the value of a replacement player, and their project particularly caught the attention of the Florida staff. Value over replacement player (VORP) is a statistic used to gauge a player’s total impact on his team in the NBA. The students on the research team created adjVORP, a statistic specifically designed to showcase a player’s value while also taking into account the strength of schedule in college. This means the statistic is particularly valuable to college coaches evaluating players in the transfer portal from lower levels than the major conferences.

adjVORP helps quantify the value of players departing from the Florida roster and provides clear opportunities for the Florida staff to target players in the transfer portal who could replace them.

“This project was very valuable because it allowed me to work on something applicable to the real world,” Phipps said. “The coaches were impressed with our project and wanted to incorporate it into their workflow, making this a proud and rewarding experience. The classes I’ve taken at UF laid the foundation for how to tackle this project, but actually doing it allowed me to go beyond the fundamentals and learn the full scope of a product development cycle with a team and many stakeholders.”

Taking classroom concepts into a real-world setting was an important part of the project. Students also worked with others who have different strengths and came up with the most efficient way to solve the problem.

“I really enjoyed the challenge of bringing a group of students together with different backgrounds in terms of basketball knowledge and coding,” Lenneberg said. “Without the data analytics skills of the rest of the team, I would’ve gotten as far as the five players I was able to calculate by hand, however, their coding abilities allowed us to analyze the entire transfer portal and deliver it to the coaches in a timely manner.”