The performance of Penn sports teams lies on the shoulders the players who are competing, and the coaches who call the plays. But a key role is also played by those working behind the scenes to provide insights, giving the teams their extra edge in performance. This role is filled by the students of the Penn Sports Analytics Group.
PSAG serves as a data analytics consultant for Penn's athletic teams. They have collaborated extensively with Penn men's and women's basketball, as well as Penn baseball. Beyond that, they are engaged with Penn football, and there are plans for future collaborations with Penn lacrosse and the Quakers' Strength and Conditioning staff.
Co-president of PSAG Thomas Wright described the group as a “consulting agency that helps advise Penn’s sports teams.” He emphasized that “as students, we love to support Penn."
Comparing the Quakers to teams at larger institutions, Wright notes that Penn Athletics doesn't have a dedicated group to provide the statistical insights PSAG can offer, and declares that the group plays a [vital] role in aiding the Quakers’ success when competing.
With a few games left in football's season, and with Penn basketball set to tip off in the next few days, PSAG is beginning to steer attention away from the gridiron and towards the hardwood. To help the Quakers' basketball teams, co-president Richard Chang shared that PSAG analyzes both Penn and future opponents in order to help coaches make adjustments and optimize game plans.
"We watch the film of the [Quakers'] practice and do live stat-tracking, [and then] pass the box scores on to the coaches who [utilize this data] to make necessary adjustments for future practices and game," Chang said.
Additionally, PSAG analyzes potential lineups and look at specific players on the opposing teams as well, which “help the coaches strategize against future opponents [to both] optimize their game plan and their lineup too."
Before the Quakers take on an opponent, PSAG provides a detailed set of data regarding the opposing players and their offensive tendencies. For example, before Penn men's basketball took on Princeton last season, PSAG broke down the game of Tigers forward Tosan Evbuomwan. The scouting report contains a bevy of information, from how often a player takes certain types of shots, to how good they are at making those shots, to their hot and cold zones on the floor.
Evbuomwan was a handful, both on the court and on paper. He ranked in the 95th percentile for spot-ups, the 88th percentile in post-ups, and the 99th percentile in put-backs. While Evbuomwan still proved difficult for the Quakers to stop, they knew what to expect.
So far, PSAG has received positive feedback on their reports from coaches, who find the extra information tremendously helpful. Despite not having any proprietary data sources, Wright and Chang emphasize that they are able to come to useful conclusions from "actually analyzing [the] data" as opposed to just "sifting through it."
For Wright, the most meaningful moment of his work came last spring, when Penn baseball made it to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Ivy League Championship. As the Quakers "pulled off a couple of big upsets in their first few games," the work of PSAG to prepare Penn for their opponents was acknowledged by announcers during the tournament.