Kevin Pauga is not a player on the Michigan State men’s basketball team. He also isn’t a coach or an athletic trainer, but his contributions to the team and the sport itself are significant.
Pauga, B.A. ‘04 Journalism, is a numbers guy and the creator of the Kevin Pauga Index (KPI), a complex analytics system used by the team that ranks D-I college basketball teams. The index is often cited by major news outlets, such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com, and has even helped the NCAA selection committee pick teams for its tournament the past two years.
A massive excel file compiled by Pauga, KPI includes a range of numerical data, from scores of every game to how many times a player touches the ball per game, all of which can be cross referenced and tabulated to find patterns and correlations.
“My biggest challenge is taking large amounts of data and presenting it in a way that makes it easy for the reader to understand,” Pauga said. “I usually understand what I’m saying, but if the reader or consumers don’t, then it defeats the purpose.”
Pauga is continuously improving the index, and after working on it for 10 years, it now contains an impressive 100 columns of data and an evolving algorithm.
In addition to using KPI to predict the success of MSU’s team, Pauga maintains a website (KPIsports.net), which he launched in 2013, that publishes the data and measures its accuracy against other notable statistics.
“It’s a priority for me to not argue based on what I think is true, but what the data proves to be true,” Pauga said. “Tell me what’s really happening, not a position someone already has that they are trying to defend.”
Pauga began working with MSU’s men’s basketball team as a student manager while an undergraduate student. Now, more than a decade later, he is the Director of Basketball Operations, in which he arranges team travel, books facilities, helps design the team schedule and manages a budget. On top of all of that, he also maintains the KPI where each day during the college basketball season he enters results onto the Excel file and posts them to KPIsports.net.
“I wear a lot of hats in my role as Director of Basketball Operations,” Pauga said. “Being able to combine journalism and data often helps me.”
Pauga’s journalism studies, he said, helped him become more well rounded and allowed him to pursue his passion for sports.
“I began as a computer science major when I came to Michigan State in the fall of 2000,” said Pauga, who later changed his major to journalism. “I’m very much a visual learner and combining the two (computer science and journalism) with my passion for sports proved very fulfilling.”
David Poulson, Associate Director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, remembers having Pauga in his computer assisted reporting class.
“At the time, he was one of Izzo’s student mangers,” Poulson said. “We crunched a lot of data in that class. I remember one thing he said he charted was defensive intensity – counting each time a player touched the ball on defense. I always wondered if Izzo used that data to determine playing time.”
In addition to D-I men’s college basketball, Pauga also maintains and publishes KPI rankings for college football and D-I women’s college basketball.