What is a Billiken?

March 23, 2013

Wikipedia did some scouting on the Ducks’ opponent today, the St. Louis University Billikens:

The Billiken was a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908, she obtained a design patent on the ornamental design of the Billiken, who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him. To buy a Billiken was said to give the purchaser luck, but to have one given would be better luck.

So, perhaps St. Louis has luck on its side, but didn’t get a lot else out of that scouting report. I read further:

Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University and St. Louis University High School, both Jesuit institutions, and both located in St. Louis. The Billiken is also the official mascot of the Royal Order of Jesters, an invitation only Shriner group, affiliated with Freemasonry.

It turns out that “[t]he denomination with the longest history of objection to Freemasonry is the Roman Catholic Church,” and now I’m just confused. So, while Wikiepedia was quite helpful, I’m not about to put all my eggs into one scouting report. The seeding suggests that St. Louis is the better team, and Wikipedia suggests it might have more luck, but the Tournament has seen quite a few upsets, and Oregon has already directed and produced one of them. Let’s take a look at how Oregon might pull off a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Oregon is not a great scoring team. As usual, I’m not talking about totals, but rather, efficiency. The Ducks’ 44.5% field goal percentage ranks 104th in D-I hoops, and despite a recent barrage of long-range marksmanship, their 32.4% from three-point range doesn’t often save them (227th nationally…ouch!). Defense and rebounding—mostly rebounding—have gotten the Ducks to where they are today. Oregon’s best chances probably lie in the fact that one-game playoffs are a hotbed for statistical variance. Some kid can make eight triples in one game, and then go 2-for-12 the next (his name was Tajuan Porter). But two things that teams have a lot of control over from game-to-game are ball security and rebounding, and the Ducks happen to be good at one of those. Admire some statistics:

Margin Pace TS% OReb% DReb% TO%
Oregon 8.2 68.3 53.6% 34.9% 70.9% 21.6%
St. Louis 10.9 63.7 55.5% 28.1% 70.7% 17.8%

Kazemi blowing up his inflatable biceps.

Both teams have solid margins of victory, an all-around summary of a team’s success on the scoreboard, but Oregon carries a heavy offensive rebounding advantage. Because I calculated rebounding as a percentage of missed shots here, Oregon didn’t get some sort of hidden advantage for being a bad shooting team. They did, however, recruit the likes of Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods, two guys that grab a lot of rebounds. The Ducks earned two additional field goal attempts and four more free throw attempts per game than its opponents, thanks mostly to their offensive rebounding.

While Oregon gives itself more chances on the glass, it takes away chances from itself by turning the ball over more frequently than do the Billikens. With point guard Dominic Artis looking good and healthy, Oregon has a better chance to shave the turnover deficit while maintaining a rebounding advantage, and that could very well be the key to an upset.

Any one game can be decided by a hot shooter or a few bad calls, but if the Ducks are able to nab a high percentage of the available rebounds, and outperform their turnover rates from the regular season, then they’ll significantly improve those chances of an upset.