Let’s Talk about Errors

Yes, I know I’m supposed to be doing the championship history articles but I don’t want to and you can’t make me!

As I procrastinated, I started thinking about how errors impact team’s performance but was disappointed not to be able to gather these statistics from the NCAA database. They have “Team Assists” but they don’t indicate how many ball handling errors there were (for instance). Anyway, I started poking around some more and found a tab that combines all of the base statistics on a conference and team basis. The data only goes back three years so my previous work was still required but this will allow me to look at errors albeit only for a brief time span.

By errors (or Team Errors) I mean how many points does a team give away to their opponents. I am counting hitting errors, service errors, service receive errors and ball handling errors. All are presented in the database under this new tab. I elected not to include blocking errors because it does overlap with kills. For instance, if the first point of a set ends with a hitter getting the ball over the net but a blocker is called for a net violation then the statistics will show a kill for the hitter and an error for the blocker. So, for one point in a set I would be attributing the result to both the attacking team’s offense and the defensive team’s “poor” defense. I’d rather the action only count once. Plus, I was a middle and got called for net violations all of the time and I was NEVER in the net. Not once. So, net violations have always been suspect in my mind especially for middles. The other really nice thing the statistics show are the national totals so I get the averages for anything I want to look at.

Here are the national averages over the last three years:


If you remember from the Points/Set articles, NCAA Tournament at-large teams typically are in the 17+ range and elite teams will hit that 18 P/S barrier. Kind of crazy to think that an elite team is only getting 4 P/S more than an average team.

What we haven’t looked at, yet, are the errors and we can now see that the national average is around 9.6 Errors/Set. This means the difference between points and errors is only 4.4 points. We can obviously expect this difference to increase for the better teams in DIII.

Let’s take a look at the lowest Errors/Set in 2019:

Saint Benedict6.55
Mary Hardin-Baylor6.63
Ohio Northern6.69
Wm. Paterson7.17
Johns Hopkins7.24
JWU (Providence)7.24

A couple of things jump out to me on this. One is the difference between these numbers and the national averages are even less than Points/Set. The other is that there are 4 teams on this Top 10 that did not make the NCAA Tournament. That’s very different than the Top 10 Points/Set leaders. So, offense, based on this very small sample size still rules over defense.

Here are the leaders in difference between P/S and Errors/Set:

Johns Hopkins11.00
JWU (Providence)9.84

Not unexpectedly, all 10 teams were in the NCAA Tournament and four were in the Elite 8. The big “wow” from this chart is the number Johns Hopkins posted. Almost a point higher than the second-place team. That’s how you go undefeated and win a national championship, I guess.

For those wondering who was the worst team in this category all I can say is, “you sick nerds for brains.” Oh, and it was NVU-Lyndon at -15.90.

For 2018, the national champions, Emory, finished 9th in difference. Your 2017 champions, CMS, finished 5th in difference. So, not too surprising that the best teams will have one of the best ratios between Points/Set and Errors/Set.

Bottom line on all of this to me is that an average team really doesn’t have that far to go to achieve “elite” status. Improve your kills by 20% and reduce your errors by 20% and you are on the cusp. Okay. I know that sounds easier than it really is. Of course, this also shows you how recruiting can change the fortunes of a team really quickly. If an average team with an average second outside hitter can find a great replacement, that might be all it needs to take that next step. Alright off to research New England conferences. Wait, is SpongeBob on…may have to check out what Patrick has been up to.


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