How UPIKE Coach Kelly Wells Used Analytics at the NAIA Championships

“Analytics help confirm or deny what we’re seeing,” says University of Pikeville men’s basketball coach Kelly Wells. Though he considers himself to be a “big instinct guy,” Wells relies heavily on analytics, which his staff generates by manually statting practices and games — a time-consuming process that Wells describes as “miserable.”

But the days of tallying up stats by hand are quickly coming to an end. At the 2017 NAIA championships, where the Pikeville Bears advanced to the Elite 8, Wells was able to gain access to 70+ advanced stats and analytics in real time thanks to an easy-to-use, affordable sensor-based system called ShotTracker that basketball programs at all levels are installing in their practice gyms and arenas. “We had really positive experiences with it,” he says.

Here, Wells talks analytics and the tech that’s making them accessible to the masses.

THE (AVOIDABLE) MISERY OF MANUAL STATTING “We’re very analytical in our approach. We set goals for each drill. One day, you might have to make a certain amount of shots and we’ll chart those during practice. Another day, we might do steals, deflections, offensive rebounds. But most of the data we use comes from breaking it all down after practice. What’s our most effective offense? What’s this player’s rebounding percentage-per-minute? I’ve got a really good staff — two graduate assistants and two managers — but it’s miserable work [laughs]. We’re not even statting everything and it takes an extra hour after every practice just to pull the stats we do.”

THE NEW AND IMPROVED WORLD OF INSTANT ANALYTICS “The last two years that we’ve played in the national tournament — that’s where we were exposed to ShotTracker. We were very intrigued by all that data you can get right away. The first year, we weren’t supposed to use the app on the bench, but the rules allowed it the second year. Our offense is kind of spread out, where we do a lot of dribble drives and things of that nature. ShotTracker showed us the sweet spots where we were scoring. Being able to generate a lineup from that information became a critical piece of our strategy.”

INSTINCTS + ANALYTICS = VICTORIES “By the time you get to the tournament, you have a pretty good handle on your players. You know their tendencies. If a kid starts out bad and he’s had two bad games in a row, well, that tells you something. But some guys get a more leeway than others and having stats to back that up really help confirm your intuitions. We see things with our own eyes that analytics may not necessarily show, but analytics help confirm or deny what we’re seeing. I’m a big instinct guy. But if I’m going to change our defense or our offensive strategy, it’s kind of like writing an essay — you need supporting evidence to back up your ideas.”

By making advanced stats easily and instantly accessible to coaches, players, fans and broadcast, ShotTracker has positioned itself at the forefront of the analytics revolution. The impact of analytics is only going to grow in the years to come — and by using analytics to support his instincts, Coach Wells already has UPIKE ahead of the game.