Beyond the Numbers

The game of basketball has come a long way since the inventor James Naismith mounted the peach basket on a wall and shot the leather ball into the basket in 1891. About 127 years later, basketball is one of the most enjoyed sports to both play and watch. Each year since its creation, new techniques, plays, and other elements have been added to grow the game. The latest element added is the stressed importance on data analytics.

Basketball coaches have long studied film and used their own eyes and brains to comprehend what is going on and what they need to do in their game plan. Now, there is technology and people willing to dive into newfound data sets to give teams an edge verse their opponents.

NBA and even some major college programs have the financial resources to collect data but also have people to work through the data and come to conclusions. At the Division 3 level, it is extremely difficult for someone to devote his or her time and energy to data analytics within “little” reward.

The men’s basketball team relaxes ahead of their second-round NCAA Division III Tournament game against North Central on March 2. The Duhawks won the game to earn their first-ever berth in the Sweet Sixteen of the national tournament.

Loras Men’s Basketball is one of those Division 3 programs lucky enough to have a devoted student that embraces data analytics and combines it with his love for basketball. That student is junior Thomas Rhomberg. The men’s team is not new to data but Rhomberg has allowed the program to make the absolute most from his work.

The 2016-17 season, Rhomberg joined then-Analytics intern, Jordan Stiefel. Stiefel and Rhomberg would attend games and meet after to discuss their findings. The following season, Rhomberg began attending both home and away games collecting and interpreting data for the team. This past season, Rhomberg helped the team capitalize on his and his assistant junior Nick Reiter’s findings all throughout the season.

“We gave Tom a lot more responsibilities midway through the season. We asked him to give us plays backed up by information that will work,” Coach Martin said. He later added, “We need you (Rhomberg) to come up with a way to save two points on the defensive end or score two more points on the offensive end.”

These play suggestions were given not only during games but also during practices and before and after each game. Rhomberg would do season-long projects while Reiter would look into game-by-game data. They are constantly reporting back to the coaches and players.

Coach Jon Aldridge said, “He (Rhomberg) sits in there and has his own voice. He has his own free will to talk in halftime meetings.”

Rhomberg’s big task was finding ways to either gain points or prevent less points with the help of data. After watching film, he concluded their final play of the half rarely ended in a basket. He spoke to coach and asked them to change things up in practice and run a new play come game time.

The coaches switched things up and took his suggestion. It resulted in a two-point basket by senior DeAndre Williams, giving Rhomberg his first job as an analytical assist. He has since been bumped up from Head Analytic intern to Director of Analytics for the Loras College Men’s Basketball team.

Rhomberg is making the most of his opportunity with Loras Men’s Basketball and hopes what he is doing with the team doesn’t end. He one day hopes he makes a career out of it.

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Jon is currently a junior who is double-majoring in Media Studies and Public Relations. He is heavily involved at Loras as a campus photographer, residential adviser, and a sports editor for the school newspaper, The Lorian.

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