The worst thing to happen on #SuperHoopsSaturday was VCU’s Briante Weber suffering a season-ending ACL tear in the Rams’ 64-55 loss to Richmond. Weber was on track to become college basketball’s steals king, as measured by total steals in one’s career. Providence’s John Linehan owns the record of 385, while Weber will finish his career with 374.
The obsession with counting stats is understandable. They’re easy because that’s what we see on the stat sheet. But counting stats do Weber an injustice. He’s led the nation in steal rate (the percentage of possessions where he recorded a steal) in each of his four collegiate seasons. Based on the dominance of his era, Weber is truly the king of steals.
While Linehan’s accomplishment is amazing as well, he did his work in a time where it was easier to pile up steals. Linehan played from 1998-2002, an era where games featured considerably more possessions and a higher percentage of them ended in turnovers. For example, the 2002 Providence team played to a pace of 72.8 possessions per 40 minutes, which ranked 57th in the nation. That same figure would rank fourth in 2015.
And in 2002, steals occurred on 10.3 percent of Division-I possessions. That figure has steadily dropped over the years and is currently at 9.5 percent. Even though 2002 isn’t that long ago, that era was more friendly to racking up steals that the current one. Last season, featured an average of just 12.3 turnovers per game across D-I, a low since 1998 when the NCAA started tracking the stat nationally, and 18% lower than the average in 2002.
While Weber’s steal count ranks third all-time, his steal rate exceeded Linehan’s in each of the three seasons for which I could find the necessary data. (I was unable to find data on minutes played for Linehan’s freshman season but it’s extremely likely Weber also had a better steal rate as a freshman.) By more objective methods, Weber was clearly superior at generating steals, and it’s not a huge leap to think he was the best since the stat has been recorded.
Of course, it’s more than just that, it’s that Weber led the country in something for four consecutive seasons.* It’s possible no player has dominated any category in his era like Weber has.
Here’s a challenge: Try to find someone that has led any category for four years in a row and don’t limit yourself to fancy rate stats. Anything in a category derived form the box score is fair game here. Nothing comes to my mind, although in the history of the game there must be something out there. However, it’s surely rare because the vast amount of college players and the randomness of a short season makes it very difficult to lead anything for two consecutive seasons, let alone four.
It’s possible that steal rate is a more stable statistic than others and that it’s easier to repeatedly lead the country in that category. But there’s little evidence of that. In the eight seasons prior to Weber’s appearance there were eight different winners of the steal rate title. And in the past four seasons, the runner-up to Weber did not finish runner-up in any other season. (Though credit to Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin who finished third in two separate seasons. However, he also finished 292nd and 18th in his other seasons on the floor.)
The obsession with counting stats is understandable. They’re simple to tabulate and that’s what we see. But to accurately frame Briante Weber’s stealing ability in the context of an era where possessions are few and ball security is improved, the rate stats tell his story best.
*For full disclosure, it appears Weber will not make the minutes threshold set arbitrarily by this site’s creator in order to qualify for ranking at the end of this season. But he’ll be close enough that if you just gave him a bunch of empty possessions to meet the threshold, he’d still have the highest steal rate in the land. His lead is currently three percent over anybody else.