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House on the Hill: Implementing Analytics

Dec. 9, 2013

It's the kind of software that's a game-changer. Literally and figuratively.

"The program we use here is excellent," said Dana Wieller, director of basketball operations for Lafayette's women's team. "I wish we would have used it [when I played] at Bloomsburg University. I was honestly amazed when I saw what it could do. I had no idea there was software like that. I would recommend it for all college coaches."

Synergy is the software Wieller, who scored 1,000 points at Liberty High School and Bloomsburg, is referring to. Utilized by most Division I basketball teams, the program allows coaches and players to watch detailed video and analyze statistics in ways never before possible.

If assistant men's basketball coach Pat Doherty wants to know if Dan Trist is making it a habit of too often driving to the baseline, Synergy will tell him. If point guard Brya Freeland skids a bounce pass to a teammate on the left wing after crossing mid-court with more frequency than assistant coach Shireyll Moore would like, Synergy alerts her.

At the touch of a key, those stats will pop up. So, too, will the video clips of each of Trist's baseline drives and Freeland's passes to the left wing.

The software provides coaches and players with nearly any stat or video segment that is requested.

In case all that information isn't enough, Synergy, named by Fast Company as one of the world's top 10 most innovative sports companies in 2013, also specializes in providing the exact same detailed information and video of their opponents.

"All the coaches are junkies," Doherty said. "It's what we do all day, every day: we watch college basketball. I could sit in my office for five to six hours a day messing around on Synergy, watching what other teams are doing."

While the advanced technology may create an atmosphere that borders on obsessive scouting now-a-days for coaches, it potentially can be a time saver, too.

It enables coaches, with the click of a mouse, to dig back electronically into archives of opponents' games. Gone are the days of scrambling around the office desperately searching for game film from three years ago, the last time, perhaps, Lafayette played that specific opponent.

Head coach Dianne Nolan and assistant coach Shireyll Moore (right) on the Leopards' team bench  

"If there are similar plays from previous years, if those teams don't change their plays, it really helps and can help with time management," Moore said. "It's a lot easier for us to manage our team. If you like somebody's offense, you can go back to see their offense and then use it yourself. It's awesome."

There's a danger with all this added technology, though, and Doherty and Moore know it.

While head coaches and their assistants can digest massive amounts of information about their own players and opponents -- their tendencies, their strengths and their weaknesses -- it is their job to be able to do so.

Players at Lafayette, however, are students first, and they have only so much time to devote to watching video clips and understanding what mistakes they're making.

"It would be overkill, and they're thinking about everything instead of playing," Moore said. "It's our job to dial it back for them. It can get overwhelming at times. Every little detail adds up and I find myself looking at every possession in every way possible."

For Doherty, he's seen firsthand that some players learn better by standing on a court and hearing what they did wrong and then getting one-on-one instruction to correct things. He still emails all the players the film he wants them to watch, but is never surprised when he gets a request from a player to talk face to face about the issue.

"We have some guys who can look at themselves on video and self-correct and then guys who can look at the same mistake 100 times, but unless they have someone on the floor instructing them, they won't make the correction," Doherty said. 

"I usually send the edits to the entire team. I don't expect the entire team to look at every edit I send, but I know some really benefit from it and some that won't. I expect the guys to know themselves well enough to know how they should best spend their time."

Although neither Moore nor Doherty want to go back in time and deal with tape exchanges -- that's when coaches would drive to meet each other halfway to flip-flop game film - both assistants are aware Synergy isn't the end-all, be-all to scouting.

Yes, the software tells Moore how many times the upcoming opposing center drove to her left and alerts Doherty how many times Lafayette has run a specific inbounds play under the basket.

It doesn't, however, tell coaches why that opposing center drove left. Did that team's opponent regularly defense her right side with help? Was that center nursing a sore right arm?

"At the end of the day, you still have to play five on five in the gym," Doherty said.

"It's useful as a tool, but only as a tool. It's not a means to an end. There is definitely a danger of getting too wrapped up in it. I myself from time to time have gotten too wrapped up in it."

And Moore sometimes wishes she could see opponents in person more often, a rarity these days. That happens now, she said, only during a tournament.

"You lose the ability to see, on the fly, how other teams are adjusting," Moore said. "When you see teams live, you can reconfirm then what you've watched on video."

By Mandy Housenick

House on the Hill