Duke Fans Are About to Unlock the Most Sophisticated Stats in College Sports
While Duke University makes a play for a national championship at the NCAA tournament, a cadre of business school students is busy fashioning a platform that could revolutionize what it means to be a Duke die-hard—or a fan of any college basketball team.
The project, led by four students at Duke's Fuqua School of Business and set to launch in the next month or so, will let visitors to GoDuke.com dive into a trove of esoteric Duke basketball statistics that goes back 80 years. It will eventually record details as minute as how long a certain player dribbles before making a basket, the specific patterns the ball makes as it moves across the court, and the tempo of play when a team wins vs. when it loses.
When it goes live, the Web platform will feature chart-heavy visualizations that allow people to compare the finer points of current players’ games with the techniques of Duke legends from past seasons.
“It is the most advanced data visualization ever in college sports. It’s not something that has really ever been done before,” says Kevin Brilliant, a second-year MBA student, who is helping to lead the initiative.
The visualizations will eventually include data that are so expensive to compile that most college basketball coaches haven’t tried. The Fuqua students are working with the German software company SAP and NTT Data, a Japanese IT services provider, to build tools made specifically to enable Duke obsessives to plumb layers of hard-to-find data.
Brilliant and his team can get details this granular because in September 2013, Duke became the first college basketball team to put specialized cameras from sports technology company STATS' SportVU in its arena. (Disclosure: STATS acquired Bloomberg's sports analytics department, Bloomberg Sports, in September 2014.) The cameras, which were already in every single NBA arena but are rare in college ball, have been used to record Duke players’ touches, motions, and positions on the court throughout games.
Embedding such arcana into the site will, Brilliant hopes, turn Duke fans into the most erudite people arguing about basketball at a bar.
“We built it from the standpoint of what would be the most interesting pieces of information in the barroom debate,” Brilliant says. He wants to give people the ability to respond with data when someone wonders whether the team’s current point guard, Tyus Jones, is a better distributor than Bobby Hurley, who handled the ball for Duke in the early 1990s, or suggests that this team relies more on three-point shooting than past championship squads.
“Our fans will have access to information that almost no other college sports fans have access to,” Brilliant says. Bringing data to the people is a strategy that also seems to have piqued the interest of head honchos in the NBA. In January, the Chicago Bulls offered Brilliant a job as analytics manager, where he says he will work on cultivating fan engagement.