Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Report on Hoops Mania -- at Let'sGoNova

Rather than join the rush for opening weekend, the Villanova staff wisely decided to wait a week, link it with the opening of the new practice facility & the Eddie Griffin Memorial Challenge (Philadelphia high schoolers versus New Jersey high schoolers) and grab a bit more of the available media (and recruits in town for the tournament).

Fellow Villanova blogger Let'sGoNova provides a very detailed recap of the Hoops Mania festivities, made even richer with his links to youtube-provided footage. Excellent coverage LGN.com!

FTL: Hoops Mania Report.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Preview -- UCF Golden Knights

The University of Central Florida Athletic Department has released a preview of the 2007-08 Golden Knights in a series of articles. Since the Golden Knights will be Villanova's first opponent in the 2007 Old Spice Classic, November 22, the articles may be of interest to those fans who want to know a little more about the Knights. The series breaks the team down by position -- The Golden Knights were picked to finish 6th by CUSA coaches in their Media Day preseason poll. No UCF players were selected to the All CUSA Team.

Quick Big East Projection: 4th Quartile

Finishing down here means...

  1. No Big East Tournament -- though the coaches have pushed to include the entire conference the logistics (the extra day rental of Madison Square Garden, the extra day of play, etc.) have tabled any drive to change the format for the foreseeable future.
  2. No (other) post season -- it would have to be one heck of a year in the Big East for a team not good enough for the BET to land an invitation to the NIT.
  3. With each passing season in the cellar more pressure to move up in the conference (and out of the cellar).
2006-07 Season
OverallBig EastBET
St. John's1615.51679.43811BET
South Florida1218.400313.186NANA

Each program has some positive developments, but the thumbnails below will probably sound negative anyway. Such is the nature of life in the bottom ¼ of the conference. The "Dean" of this group of coaches is St. John's Norm Roberts, whose tenure stretches back all of four years this season. South Florida's Stan Heath is brand new to the Big East, but has previous (largely successful) stops at Kent State and Arkansas.

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  • DePaul -- Jerry Wainwright brings in one of the stronger recruiting classes in the conference on the heels of Sammy Mejia and Wilson Chandler's departure. Mac Koshwal (a bf/pf) and Dar Tucker (wing/sg) are on par with the Jonny Flynn/Deonte Greene pair from Syracuse (or the Fisher/Stokes pair from Villanova). Mike Bizoukas, Matija Poscic, Mario Stula and Kene Obi fill out the incoming class. Koshwal, Poscic, Stula and Obi arrive just in time, as the Blue Demons, in addition to Mejia and Chandler, also lost three senior front court players, Marcus Heard, Keith Butler and Lorenzo Thompson, pf/bf/c's all. Know that the newcomers are not walking into an empty locker room. This year's edition of the Blue Demons will be an upper classmen-dominated squad, as six of the eleven players who started at least one game return (senior Cliff Clinkscale started 2 games and fifth year senior Wesley Green started 1 game). The newcomers, Poscic, Stula and if he is not too much of a project, Obi, will help fill out the holes left in the front court.

    In a conference with many tough rebounding teams the Blue Demons limited their opponents' offensive rebounding percentage to 29.4, good for 1st rank in the conference (or reversed, the Blue Demons had a DR% of 70.6). Sophomore pf Wilson Chandler (18.6, #216) and senior Marcus Heard (17.3, #326) may have set the standard, but froncourt mate Karron Clarke (13.1 -- returning) and guards/wings Sammy Mejia (13.1) and Draelon Burns (10.1 -- returning) were clearly active on the defensive glass too. Many off the bench, especially the front court contingent of seniors Keith Butler (23.6), Lorenzo Thompson (15.8) and junior Wesley Green (11.9 -- returning) were very active during their rotations. DePaul was also very good at defending the 2FGA as opponents connected on only 44.2% of their 2 point attempts. The Demons were ranked #31 in D1 ball and #5 in the conference (Connecticut & Syracuse were #1 & #2). Another key to Demon defense was shot blocking. DePaul was ranked #34 in D1 for shot blocks (12.8), led by three players, senior Marcus Heard (5.1, #158), sophomore Wilson Chandler (5.0, #168) and junior Karron Clarke (2.6, #456 -- returning), all of whom were ranked in the Top 500. While the Demons had several strong elements to their defense they were ranked a middling Big East team overall. A mediocre perimeter defense and lack of aggression undermined their good showing elsewhere. DePaul failed to challenge for the ball, registering a defensive turnover rate (TO Rate) of 17.7 which ranked them #328 out of 336 D1 teams -- dead last in the Big East. An anemic Steal Pct. of 9.3, ranked #203 in D1, #11 in the Big East, was certainly a contributing factor. Paradoxically, while opponents hit on 35.2% of their 3FGAs ranking the Demons at #202 in D1 and #13T in the Big East, the did not tend to take advantage of this Demon weakness, a possible tribute to Clarke's Chandler's and Heard's blocking abilities.

    On offense, the Demons had only 5.0% of their total shots blocked, ranking them #3 in D1 and #1 in the Big East. Especially impressive given they took nearly 67% of their field goal attempts from inside the 3 point line. They ranked 5 players in the Top 250 for low turnover rates (Marcus Heard, 10.9 #25; Wilson Chandler, 12.5 #74; Karron Clarke, 14.0 #160; Draelon Burns, 14.7 #216; Sammy Mejia, 15.0 #246), but managed to compile an overall turnover rate of 18.5, # in D1 and no better than #5 in the conference?! The answer lay in the point guard position, manned at various times by Will Walker (sophomore - returning), Jabari Currie (junior - returning) and Cliff Clinkscale (senior - returning). Currie's TO Rate was an astonishing 41.9, especially crippling since he handled 17.2% of the possessions when he was in. Clinkscale's TO Rate, at 36.0, was an eyelash better, though his was less damaging since Coach Wainwright played him only about 29.6% of the time. Having compiled an eFG of 58.5 (and a PPWS of 1.21) and an assist rate of 27.3 (all very good numbers), Currie's TO Rate suggests he must have been especially frustrating to watch. He managed to sabotage his own ORtg (88.4), and undermine his team's overall ORtg. Another hint at the Demon's lack of aggression was their inability to get to the free throw line. Many conference teams relied on the free throw line to provide between 17% - 20% of their point production, DePaul's free throw effort yielded about 15.5% of their points. Only West Virginia's 15.2% was lower.

    The Demons won when they shot well -- record was 14-6 when their eFG% was 52.0 or higher. They also won when they defended the shot well -- if they held their opponents to an eFG% of < 48.0 they won at a 3:1 ratio (15-5). And they were 4-9 against D1 squads when their opponent's eFG% was 48.0 or greater. Coach Wainwright runs a very structured, low possession offense. DePaul averaged about 63.1 possessions per 40 minute game (63.3 adjusted). When they played within a 61 - 67 possession "comfort zone" they tended to do well (about 11-5). Their record versus opponents when the game pace was 60 or lower, however, was 3 - 8. Losing Chandler, the front court contingent and Mejia will have to be obstacles to overcome this season, but real progress can be made if Wainwright can find a serviceable floor general from among the Clinkscale, Currie, Walker, Bizoukas contingent. His offense requires discipline and given the squad this season will be the first composed predominantly of his recruits, 2007-08 may be the Big East's first glimpse of what Jerry Wainwright can do with a team.

  • Rutgers -- The good news about Fred Hill's first year as a head coach? It is over. Most power conference teams use their OOC to build a cushion going into their conference regular season. The Scarlet Knights used their OOC to get to .500. They started the Big East season at 7-6, and then the rains came. Seniors Marquis Webb (started 27 games), Adrien Hill (played in all 29 games, started 27 of them), who according to Pomeroy's Rutgers Scout Page, was the most efficient scorer (his ORtg of 113.? was team high) on the 2006-07 squad, Frank Russell (a front court sub), Shayle Keating (back court sub) and bench warmers Jon Mimmo, Jason Cherry and Jamar Colon have all graduated/departed. Junior Ollie Bailey transferred to DII Oklahoma City College to complete his eligibility this season. Hill will replace those eight players with a class of four, headed by very well regarded Corey Chandler, a 2 guard from Newark Eastside (Randy Foye's HS), Mike Coburn, a 6-0 point guard from Mt. Vernon HS, NY, Earl Pettis, a 6-5 forward from Nuemann-Goretti HS in Philadelphia who prepped a year in North Carolina and Justin Soffman, a 6-4 wing who prepped at St. Thomas More, Conn last year. The freshmen will no doubt see a good deal of playing time right from the beginning as the returning core of the team, JR Inman (junior sf/pf - 2 year starter), Jaron Griffen (junior sg/sf), Anthony Farmer (junior pg - 2 year starter), Byron Joynes (redshirt senior center), Courtney Nelson (junior transfer from Richmond) and Hamady N'Diaye (sophomore center) are undermanned going in.

    Rutger's best stat, offensive or defensive, was their shot blocking percentage -- 11.3, good for #61 in D1 and #8 in the Big East. This is unusual because every other team had something they did really well (top third in the Big East or better). Rutgers clearly struggled everywhere last season. Actually they were lucky. According to Pomeroy (see the Rutgers Scout Page), Rutgers scored +0.041 above their projected result. That translates into a +1 win record. Consider their record was 9-19, Pomeroy's Luck Factor suggests they should have had a record of 8-20. Ouch.

  • St. John's -- The Johnnies absorbed the loss of program staples Darryl Hill and Lamont Hamilton before the end of last season (each was an injury casualty). The staff saw the future (at least with respect to the returning players), and have had time to plan and make adjustments. Or so it seemed. Departing from the squad at the end of last season, in addition to Hamilton and Hill, were subs Corey Brown, Adam Laitsis and Devon Mayo, all were out of eligibility/graduated. Senior center and sometime starter Aaron Spears is also gone. Those losses were anticipated, but during the summer two year sub Ricky Torres, consistent starter Avary Patterson and rising freshman Qa'rraan Calhoun who started eight games at the end of the season all transfered out. Patterson's transfer was a bit of a shock as he was a JUCO who transferred in over the off season last year. He had a single year of eligibility left and decided to spend that year playing for Tarleton State, a DII powerhouse rather than St. John's.

    The fallout over the collective failure to break even in conference play and secure (at least) an NIT bid last season, coupled with Robert's failure to lock up NYC recruit (class of 2008) Sylven Landesberg has distilled into two "common wisdom" observations --
    1. that St. John's (as a University/basketball program) can no longer compete effectively for the top talent in the city (lack of glamor surrounding the program, lack of facilities, lack commitment to the basketball program, etc.) and
    2. that Norm Roberts cannot get it done (cannot handle recruiting, cannot manage program, cannot manage game, etc.)
    Should those observations, increasingly promoted in a spate of recent articles become the repeated background for team progress reports this season, a morale-crushing malaise may well settle over this team and staff, effectively undermining chances to improve.

    The Johnnies' 2007 class of recruits is seven men deep. Malik Boothe, Mike Cavataio, Paris Horne and DJ Kennedy will join Lawrence and Larry Wright in the back court. Boothe may push Lawrence for time at the point. Horne and Kennedy will most likely see time immediately on the wing. Justin Burrell, Dele Coker, Sean Evans and Rob Thomas (red shirt freshman) will join Mason (and Jasiulionis) in the front court. Justin Burrell, a 6-8 230lb pf, regarded as the best of the incoming group, will most likely start from Day 1 at the #4.

    Defense was the strongest feature of last season's team. While overall the rating (adjusted 95.2, #74 in D1, #11 in the Big East) did not impress, there were a few bright spots. St. John's 2 FGA defense was 45.3 (#54 in D1 and #8 in the Big East) and their eFG% was 47.1, #57 in D1 and #6 in the Big East. The two players with the most playing time last season, Eugene Lawrence (senior pg -- returning) and Anthony Mason Jr. (junior forward -- returning) have ORtgs of 86.6 and 98.6 respectively. Scoring less than a point per possession (an ORtg of 100.0) is a bad sign. Both had eFGs below 50.0 (48.6 & 47.5 respectively). In short offense was a problem last year and with a large influx of freshmen there is every reason to believe that drought will continue. Lawrence is a self-made point guard who distributes first (his ARate was 35.3, #19 in D1) and shoots only as a last resort (per the St. John's Scout Page over on Ken Pomeroy's web site) as confirmed by his Poss% (19.6) and Shot% (13.0) stats. "Lil' Mase" is a 6-6 sf who became 1/3 of the Red Storm offense last season. Of the three (Hamilton & Patterson were the other two) he was the least efficient, and that will be a problem for the Johnnies this season. Of those returning with Lawrence and Mason -- Otoja Abit (senior sf), Liem Biesty (senior g), Tomas Jasiulionis (junior center) and Larry Wright (sophomore sg) -- only Jasiulionis and Wright have logged more than mop up minutes. And only Wright, whose Poss%, 17.1, suggests he is a role player/borderline "regular", had an ORtg >100.0 (103.2). Roberts will have to draw from the incoming class to do more than just put warm bodies on the court and fill spots in the rotation. The recruits will have to contribute immediately to both the offense and the defense. Roberts no doubt used immediate playing time as a recruiting pitch. He wasn't lying.

  • South Florida -- The Bulls have two spot on starters, each anchored at opposite ends of the court. Chris Howard, a very well regarded pg who finished rehab in late January last season, and Kentrell Gransberry, the Third Team All Big East center who transferred in from LSU form the nucleus around which new Coach Stan Heath will try to build a Big East-level basketball program in Tampa. Heath should not be unfamiliar with that type of challenge. He took the Arkansas job on the heels of Nolan Richardson's dismissal, and walked into a very demoralized and decimated Razorback locker room to carry on with a short D1 roster. He brought that program back from the ashes, taking them to the NCAAs last season. The South Florida program does not have as far a climb to respectability as that post-Richardson Arkansas program.

    With the exception of senior center Kentrell Gransberry, the Bulls lost virtually their entire front court to graduation/expired eligibility. Departed are forward starters Melvin Buckley who started all 30 games last season, McHugh Mattis who started 29 of 30 games, reserve Zaron Cann who appeared in four games and reserve Melvyn Richardson who appeared in 26 games while starting 5. If however, there was only one to keep it was Gransberry, who was named to the All Big East Third Team last spring. Gransberry is an LSU transfer who appeared in 23 games after sitting out the required two semesters. Gransberry started 21 of those games (and all 16 of USF's Big East conference games) and posted double-doubles in eleven games (eight of them versus Big East opponents). According to Pomeroy's statistics (see the ) Gransberry was a Top 500 player in ORtg (113.3, #275), Poss% (27.0, #148), Shot% (29.1, #126), OR% (20.0, #1!), DR% (25.5, #16) and TORate (12.5, #72 -- remarkable for a front court player). Gransberry will be joined by redshirt sophomore Aris Williams (pf) and sophomore Adamu Saaka (sg/sf), a regular in the rotation who started 2 games last season. Stepping in fill out the front court contingent are JUCO junior Mobolaji Ajayi (pf), true freshman Orin Chin (sf), senior transfer Mohammad Esseghir (center) and redshirt sophomore Aaron Holmes (sg/sf). The back court is in better shape as Chris Howard returns, joined by sophomore Solomon Bozeman, who as a freshman, ran the point while Howard completed his rehab. Bozeman logged a Min% of 76.0 (#494 in D1 -- per the South Florida Scout Page on Ken Pomeroy's website) while maintaining an ORtg of 104.2. His Poss%, 18.2 suggested he was a borderline "regular" in the offense, though it is clear he saw his role on the team as the setup man for Richardson, Buckley and Mattis (and Gransberry), the upper class men front court. He compensated for a mediocre eFG (47.0) by getting to the line often (FTRate was 87.0, #12 in D1) where he converted at an 88.4% clip. As setup man Bozeman posted a good ARate (23.0, #292), but canceled it with a TORate of 28.3. Turnovers were a malady that seemed to afflict any Bull not named Gransberry or Richardson. Howard, Bozeman and reserves Jesus Verdejo (a junior transfer who started 15 games) & senior bench warmer Eddie Lovett will be joined by redshirt sophomore Dante Curry, a well regarded combo guard and true freshman Dominique Jones.

    The Bulls were pretty good at blocking shots last season. The premier shot blocker was McHugh Mattis, not Gransberry. Mattis managed a Block Pct of 11.7, good for #17 in D1. Gransberry (1.8), Saaka (1.4) and Williams (3.0) all contributed to the team-wide 13.1 mark, good for #30 in D1 and #4 in the block-conscious Big East. The Bull's offense, depended to a significant degree on their ability to get to the line. Not blessed with an abundance of marksmen, the Bulls earned 24.2% of their points at the line. A 66.2% FT Pct. was not especially helpful. The Bulls had three Big East games decided by 5 or fewer points, and lost all three (-2 versus Marquette, -3 versus St. John's and -5 versus Providence). A few free throws made here and there may have made a difference in one or more of those games. Game-to-game the Bulls' held their opponents to an eFG of about 47.5. By itself not especially noteworthy as this ranked the Bulls #72 in D1 and #10 in the Big East. But when the Bulls held their opponents to less than that average they were 11-3. Not bad for a team that finished with a 12-18 record.

    Former head coach Robert McCullum, whose pre-USF experience was in the MAC, took over the Bulls as they prepared to migrate from the Atlantic Sun Conference to Conference USA. He was tasked with upgrading the program to be competitive in the CUSA. And then lightening struck and he found himself in the Big East. The Bulls roster may have lacked Big East quality players, something McCullum was in the processing of fixing. Heath will benefit from McCullum's efforts, but the Bulls are still a work in progress.

The common denominator? New (relatively speaking) coaches and revolving rosters. DePaul returns 50.1% of their PT from last season, including 6 of the 12 players who started at least one game last year (returner Wesley Green started a single game last year). Rutgers returns 59.9% of last season's PT, including 5 of 11 players who started at least one game (Frank Russell & Jon Mimmo started on Senior Day). St. John's returns 43.6% of last year's PT and 5 of 11 players who started at least one game (Devin Mayo and Adam Laitsis started Senior Day). South Florida returns 52.7% of their PT from last season, including 6 of 10 players who started at least one game (Saaka started 2 games, Aris Williams started 1 game).
Most Likely to...(and why):

  • Move Up a Quartile...
    • DePaul -- Definitely the strongest in this group. The Demons have some good players coming in and some quality experience returning. If they can develop some consistency in the OOC, they will easily move into the 3rd quartile come the Big East season.
  • Bring up the Rear...
    • Rutgers - as tempting as it might be to fall back on "old reliable" South Florida here, the Scarlet Knights will play this season with a very undermanned squad, especially in the front court. The problem is further compounded because they have little experience in the back court to slide over and cover the front court, as Seton Hall did last season. Assuming the entire squad remains healthy (and well rested/conditioned), the Scarlet Knights will still finish #15 or #16 (depending on their head-to-heads with USF and St. John's). Injuries? Fagetabotit.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quick Big East Projection: 3rd Quartile

100% of this quartile will go to the Big East Tournament. Maybe ½ will have (post season) life after the BET...most likely in the NIT.

2006-07 Season
OverallBig EastBET
Notre Dame248.750115.6884NCAA
Seton Hall1316.488412.250NANA
West Virginia279.75097.5637NIT

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  • Cincinnati -- First year head coach Mick Cronin walked into the Bearcat locker room and found senior starter Cedric McGowan and subs Ronald Allen (senior) & Connor Barwin (soph) were the only scholarship players left from the 2005-06 season roster that closed out the Huggins Era. Even rising sophomore (sub) Dominick Tilford, who stayed most of the summer, ultimately followed fellow freshman Devan Downing and transferred out just before the season began. Cronin hit the recruiting trail and put together a roster that included JUCOs (Tim Crowell, John Williamson, Marcus Sikes, Jamual Warren, Marvin Gentry and Brandon Miller) and a freshman (All Big East Rookie Team member Deonta Vaughn). The team he put on the court featured a mobile frontcourt, a very promising freshman point guard, but lacked a reliable set of offensive options (shooters) and confidence when playing away from Fifth Third. This year's edition will feature another 6 or so new faces (Kenny Belton, Rashad Bishop, Larry Davis, Anthony McClain, Alvin Mitchell and Darnell Wilks) who will mix with the five holdovers from last year's squad (JUCO Tim Crowell moved on, McGowan & Allen graduated, Barwin moved back to football).

    Cincinnati ranked in the upper ½ of the conference in both offensive and defensive turnover rates. The Bearcats had two players, center John Williamson (who will play the #4 in 2007-08) and wing guard Marvin Gentry ranked in the Top 500 for best Turnover Rate, and a third, pg Deonta Vaughn who, at 17.1, just missed the cutoff (16.9).

    The Bearcats were, relative to D1 as a whole, pretty good at both offensive and defensive rebounding. The Big East as a conference happens to be very good at offensive rebounding. Which makes Cincinnati's defensive rebounding proficiency all the more impressive. Those undersized but mobile wings Mick Cronin put on the court proved very aggressive to the ball.

    Cincinnati ranked near the bottom among Big East in both eFG% categories -- their offensive eFG% was 45.9/#292 while their defensive eFG% was only marginally better at 52.0/#252. When the Bearcats held their opponent to an eFG of 48.0 or less they were 8-3. Unfortunately there were 19 other games (in which they put together a record of 3-16) in which they allowed opponents an eFG% > 48.0.

    Mick Cronin's crew was 1 - 11 away from Fifth Third. They were 0 - 8 on the road in the Big East. 20% of the Bearcats' games were decided by 5 points or less. Cincinnati's winning percentage in those games was 0.167 (1 - 5). Four of those close games were against Big East opponents and the Bearcats were 1 - 3 versus those teams. Their home/away record for those 4 Big East games was also 1 - 3. Cincinnati will have to learn how to win away from home and close out the close games if they want to extend their season to Madison Square Garden. A road record of 1 - 11, a close game record (games decided by 5 or fewer points) of 1 - 5 and a consistency rating of 21.4 (ranked, at #201, in the bottom 40% of D1 basketball) suggest that Cincinnati suffers defensive and offensive breakdowns at critical times.

    Look for a bigger front line this season, hopefully one that can score consistently. Senior 6-10 Adam Hrycaniuk, finally eligible, will split time at the #5 with 6-11 freshman Anthony McClain to provide the kind of height the Bearcats lacked with Williamson, Sikes and Cedric McGowan. John Williamson will be able to turn around and face the basket while playing the #3, his natural position (he is only 6-6...). With transfer Mike Williams, a former MDAA from Texas out for the season, Coach Cronin will have to look to 2 or 3 freshmen (Kenny Belton, Rashad Bishop or Alvin Mitchell) to mix and match with Williamson and senior Marcus Sikes to fill out the front court rotation.

    Because the Bearcats should have consistent scorers up front next season, point guard Deonta Vaughn should learn how to bring those players into the offense. At the end of last season Vaughn seemed to try to do too much offensively. Instead of distributing the ball he took the shot himself. That should change this season, helping his shooting average and the overall offensive efficiency of the team.

  • Notre Dame -- The front court returns virtually intact (Luke Harangody's recent injury notwithstanding), but the staff has to replace Gary Carter and Colin Falls, both of whom became efficient scorers over the past 2+ years. The Irish put together a nice run through the Big East last season, compiling an 11-5 record on their way to a 24-8 record and a #6 seed in the NCAA tournament. A nearly complete turnaround from the 2005-06 season in which they seemed incapable of doing anything right. The biggest difference in the turnaround was defense. Notre Dame games for the past few seasons resembled more a horse race than a basketball game. Especially in the 2005-06 season, the last team to score usually won the game (the Irish had a 3-10 record in games decided by 5 points or less). The changeover from a rotation composed principally of an achey Torin Francis, a perimeter-oriented Luke Zeller, an under utilized Rob Kurz and Rick Cornett (2005-06) to Rob Kurz, freshman Luke Harangody and sophomores Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller brought Notre Dame's 2006 defensive efficiency down from 98.3/#120 to 93.0/#49. True the Irish recorded modest improvements in eFG% (48.0/#95 to 47.2/#59) and rebounding (68.5/#134 in 2006, 68.8/#70 in 2007). But the big improvement was turnovers -- Notre Dame developed a more hawkish attitude that accounted for a nearly 5.5% improvement year-over-year in forcing defensive turnovers. In 2006 NDU logged a 15.5%/#334 TORate; in 2007 their TORate was 20.9/#181. This season opens with Harangody nursing torn thumb ligaments, and sophomore Ryan Ayers looking for more PT.

    The 2006-07 Big East regular season began with Notre Dame in crisis. The expulsion of sophomore pg Kyle McAlarney threatened to kill the momentum building from a promising OOC run. The Irish were 12-1, coming off of a 50 point win over Rider (NEC) when McAlarney was suspended pending review. Freshman Tory Jackson stepped in to finish the season as, after 3+ weeks of limbo, the Notre Dame administration decided to expell Kyle, but allow him to apply for re-instatement at the end of the spring semester. After a rocky start Jackson grew to fill the role well. Beginning his run as a spot reliever (Min% 38.6, ORtg 91.7) regressed slightly as his minutes increased rapidly. By the end of the season (NDU went out in a 1st upset at the hands of Winthrop) Jackson's minutes (and ORtg) had risen to 69.6 (and 100.0). McAlarney is back, and Jackson has ½ season's worth of experience to boot. The question is who will take the point and who will move to the off guard.

    One of the bigger questions pending is who will shoot the 3 -- an essential component in Mike Brey's offensive system. Between them, Carter and Falls took 63.0% of the 3FGAs last season (213 & 250 respectively). The next most likely player to launch a 3 was Kyle McAlarney, who took 56 before his expulsion. Falls preferred 3s (one of the wing players in Brey's system always does), taking 79.6% of his FGAs from behind the line. The only player who comes close to matching that shooting profile is Ryan Ayers, who took 71.6% of his FGAs from beyond the 19-9 line. But Ayers logged only 28.0% of the minutes at his position last season, throwing up 67 total FGAs. Falls did not play a Steve Novak-type role in the Irish offensive system. He was content to take about 1 in 5 FGAs when he was on the floor (about average for a 5 man team on the floor), up from about 1 in 6 FGAs the year before. Someone however will have to fill that role. If Ayers is the most likely candidate, others include Luke Zeller, a 6-11 #4/#5 who plays like a European and sophomore Jon Peoples. No doubt freshmen Ty Proffitt, a 6-4 combo guard out of Kentucky will also see time out on the wing.

  • Seton Hall -- The Pirates had the lowest turnover rate in the conference. The Pirates had multiple point guards (Harvey, Gause) and shooting/combo guards (Davis, Nutter, Marshall) to handle the ball. No guard listed had a TORate greater than 19.5 (Harvey) and three -- Nutter, Gause and Davis -- were among Ken Pomeroy's Top 500 for turnover rate. The Hall also forced turnovers pretty well. They were ranked 3rdin the conference for defensive TORate (23.7). Forward "Everyman" Brian Laing (2.6, #475) joined with three guards, point guard Eugene Harvey (2.7, #378), Larry Davis (3.2, #195) and Master Thief Paul Gause (6.9, #1) to form a defense that deprived their opponents of a field goal attempt nearly 1 in 4 times. That ability to limit their opponents' scoring opportunities helped to mask some of their own problems on offense.

    Of the six players who logged more than 50.0% of the playing time at their respective position, only one, Stan Gaines, was taller than 6-5 -- and Gaines was all of 6-7. That smaller lineup (Brian Laing, Eugene Harvey, Jamar Nutter, Gaines, Paul Gause and Larry Davis) translated into a smaller presence on the floor. Which eventually translated into few(er) rebounds. The Pirates were ranked #15 in both offensive rebounding rate (OR% -- 31.8) and defensive rebounding rate (opponents' offensive rebounding rate -- 36.4). That lack of height created other problems, especially on defense. Opponents were able to log an eFG of 51.2 versus the Pirates, good for a #15 rank. The smaller lineup created mismatches, especially in the paint. 70.6% of SHU's opponents' field goal attempts were taken inside the 3 point line which they converted at a disconcerting 0.524 rate. The Big East conversion rate was an even worse 0.543 rate. The Pirates did defend the perimeter well (0.329, an eFG rate of 0.494, below 50%). The Pirates ranked #15 in FTRate as well, no doubt due to aggressive (over compensation?) play, and maybe in the last 5 - 6 minutes of the second half, fatigue. Difficulties matching up with taller players eventually translated into more trips to the free throw line. The Pirates committed 88 more fouls than their opponents (64 more in the 16 Big East games alone), which translated into 116 more free throw attempts. The terrific defensive turnover rate maintained by the Hall was negated by the other 3 defensive factors (eFG, FTRate and Rebounding). The Pirate's Defensive Rating, 109.3 (adjusted), translated into a disappointing #11 rank in the Big East.Small & mobile may not be better -- when opponents shot an eFG of 51.0 or better the Pirates were 3-12. They were 1-9 versus Big East opponents. When limited to an offensive rebounding rate of 35.0 or less the Pirates were 4-15. The Big East is a very good rebounding conference, so it is no surprise that their Big East record was 1-12. When both margins were met, the Pirates were 1-11 (0-10 in the Big East).

    When a team is as unlucky as the Pirates were in 2006-07, the chances are good it will turnaround in the next season. The Pirates registered a -.108 last season, that translates into about 3 more losses than anticipated. Returning most of last year's squad, while adding help in the front court, should work to "improve" their luck. 6-9 center John Garcia should be healthier this season. Coach Gonzalez has recruited 6-9 Mike Davis, 6-9 Brandon Walters and 6-11 Augustine Okosun to take up space in the paint and allow Brian Laing to move to the wing, a more natural position for him (he is after all, only 6-5). Some combination of those 4 plus 6-6 "all-purpose" forward Michael Glover should see time on the court.

  • West Virginia -- Coach Beilein's particular version of the 4 out 1 in motion offense employs passes, cuts and screens to free up a shooter. After a rocky first season the Mountaineer players embraced the system and have managed to put together a very good 4 year run of post season play. Coach Beilein had the opportunity to fully integrate his variation of 4-out 1-in motion into the West Virginia program before he jumped to Michigan. The Mountaineer's playing style was a classic match to the Perimeter Oriented Team (as described by John Gasaway of The Big Ten Wonk Blog:
    1. Take a high rate of 3s-to-2s, preferably in the range of 40% of the FGAs. WVU took 49% of their FGAs as 3s.
    2. Don't turn the ball over much. The Mountaineers didn't. Their 17.0 TO% was 10th in D1 and 2nd in the Big East.
    3. Don't get rebounds (especially offensive rebounds...). Their OR% was a paltry 30.7, #270 across D1, which ranked West Virginia #16 in the Big East. Offensive rebounds are especially challenging given the tendency to rain 3s. And rebounding is another characteristic of Big East basketball (most of the members rebound very well at both ends of the floor).
    4. Don't foul. Hanging on the 3 point line and playing defense in a 1-3-1 zone minimizes contact...and opportunities for fouls. On offense the 'Eers had a 20.1 FTRate which earned them a #306 rank in D1 ball (very unusual considering the Big East is seen as a physical conference...) and #2 in the conference. On the defensive side of the ball WVU was nearly equally contact-shy. They fouled at a 28.8 rate, good for a #33 rank across D1, and #1 in the conference.
    Largely a by product of Beilein's perimeter oriented offensive system and 1-3-1 zone defense, Mountaineer players had few opportunities to take an opponent man-to-man. Their 28.8 FTRate was ranked #33 in D1 and 1st in the Big East, a conference with a long history of physical play. Teams like Connecticut, which historically anticipate a relatively consistent percentage of their points will be collected at the charity strip, had to be frusturated by West Virginia's style of offense and defense.

    They were an excellent shooting team, but with a consistency rating of 24.2, the Mountaineers were ranked #295 overall in D1. The three point shot, an integral component in West Virginia's offense, is notoriously difficult to sustain game-to-game, especially with a team that had as little playing time going into the season. That they sustained the level of offense through the season is a tribute to Beilein's system and techniques for teaching it.

    By all accounts 2006-07 was supposed to be a down year for West Virginia. But the Mountaineers put on a very good run through much of the Big East season. They faltered after compiling a 7-3 record, and staggered home in a 2-4 stretch which. After a modest 2 round run in the Big East Tournament they were invited to the NIT. The NIT Championship would have been a very good bulding block for this freshman & sophomore-dominated team. But John Beilein left for Michigan at the end of the season.

    Expect something very different this year. Bob Huggins may promise fans he will keep elements of John Beilein's system to ease the player's transition to his system, but even though both approaches are described as Motion-type Offenses, they are very different systems. It is not likely WVU fans will recognize those Beilein elements.

The coaches at Seton Hall and Cincinnati are a year into their respective tenures. While Cronin (Cincinnati) had the bigger reconstruction job, the task facing Gonzalez (Seton Hall) is nearly every bit as challenging. West Virginia's Bob Huggins will work through the pitfalls both Gonzo and Cronin faces last season, albeit with a much higher favorable rating from the Moutaineer fan-base, and by virtue of a 19+ year resume at Cincinnati & K State which includes numerous post season appearances & player(s) to the NBA, a good deal more credibility with the players and administration. He still starts the season 0-0 however. Cincinnati returns 74.9% of the minutes from last year's team. That includes 5 of 8 players who started at least one game (graduating senior Ron Allen started a single game). Notre Dame returns 67.8% of last year's minutes, including 6 of 8 players who started at least one game. The Pirates return 76.9% of their minutes with 6 of 10 players who started at least one game (Kashif Pratt & Mani Messy each started a single game). West Virginia brings back 71.0% of their minutes from 2006-07 and 3 of 5 starters.
Most Likely to...(and why):

  • Move Up a Quartile...
    • West Virginia -- Game pace (raw) for Kansas State and Cincinnati teams when Huggins was coaching came in at around 67.7 (both higher than the D1 average), well above the pace typically set by John Beilien's teams (between 61 - 63). The 2006-07 WVU team did play 16 games at a pace higher than last year 63.1, and finished with a record of 14-2 0.875, well above the winning percentage (0.688 on an 11-5 record) they notched when playing within their 5% comfort zone. Beilein's last two recruiting classes, which included players like Wellington Smith, Joe Mazzulla, Da'Sean Butler, Alex Ruoff and Joe Alexander, were the most athletic classes he brought to Morgantown (maybe he knew something...). They ought to be able to handle the faster game preferred and taught by Huggins. Whether they can handle the more physcial play offered by Huggins' style remains to be seen. The first year is usually a bumpy one for a new coach, but Huggins ought to handle it better than the other first year coaches.
  • Move Down a Quartile...
    • Seton Hall -- John Garcia, Mike Davis, Alex Okonsun, Michael Glover and Brandon Walters make up a thin front court with a lot of questions. The rotation might work out, or it may prove to be only just a bit more durable and skilled than the Belmeier, Gaines, Messy, Pratt rotation from last year. I don't expect to see Laing regularly play the #4 again -- that would signal a real health (or other) problem in the front court. The NCAA has decided to make bench behavior a point of emphasis this season. Bobby Gonzalez, whistled for a conference-high 9 technicals last season, may face a huge challenge as he controls his behavior (or whatever he does that drives refs crazy...). Hopefully "T's" will not cost the Priates any games.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Villanova Efficiency and Usage

While looking around over the weekend I checked into the Hoya Prospectus Blog and discovered he applied the analysis discussed recently by Ken Pomeroy over at The Basketball Prospectus to the Georgetown teams of the past 3 years. I decided to crunch the numbers for the Wildcats and see what I could come up with...

S Clark------21.512.2104.060.116.3106.8

Pomeroy provides individual possession-based stats going back to the 2004-05 season. Lowry was a freshman and Fraser, Foye, Ray and Sumpter were just beginning to get some (post recruiting class) national attention. I decided to add playing time (Min%) to the analysis. While Pomeroy suggests that playing time will not by and large, have an impact on ORtg and Poss% (growth/decline in Poss% is determined by the slope of the curve, not the amount of time on the court), a player receives more or less playing time based on (among a number of factors) how well he meets the staff's expectations for play at that position. The rapid growth (or decline) in playing time from one season to the next can suggest a significant change in the player/team relationship. The players above earned 10% or more of the PT at their position for the season listed. I have ordered them (roughly) in the years they played.

Pomeroy, in his latest article on the subject of player possession rates, ("Effective Usage: Putting Individual Efficiency in Context" over at Basketball Prospectus), used a loose classification system:

Superstars combine high efficiency and high usage. Outstanding role players provide high efficiency without high usage. Durant is an example of the former. He used 31.6% of Texas' possessions while he was on the floor. With five players on the floor, an average player will use 20% of his team's possessions. Hoops being a game where the team dynamic is so important to success, most players are clustered around the average usage. Roughly half of all players have a usage between 17% and 23%. Only a select few get over 25%, and only 16 players in the nation had a larger role in their team's offense than Durant did.
- Ken Pomeroy, "Effective Usage: Putting Individual Efficiency in Context", 10/10/07

Pomeroy uses 2 elements -- Poss% (percent of a team's possessions a player uses when on the floor) and ORtg (offensive efficiency) to identify the type of role any player might have with respect to his team. According to his "Individual Stats Primer" over at kenpom.com, looking at possession percentage only there are 4 types of players...

  • go-to guy/star - Poss% > 25.0. By his observation few exceed 30.0
  • regular/starter - Poss% is around 20.0 (give or take 2 - 3 points). Gets about 1 in 5 possessions, is sometimes called an "average" player (though obviously ORtg is not considered when using that designation).
  • role player - Poss% is around 15.0 (give or take 2 points). The player has a limited role in the offense. Sometimes a specialized player?
  • marginal player - Poss% is around 10.0 (give or take 3 or so points). Often a freshmen whose Min% >10.0, but has not quite integrated into the offense. Though not listed specifically (and rarely referred to in Pomeroy's writings) there are quite a few players tracked by Pomeroy (because they log > 10.0 of the minutes) who gain < 13.0 of the available possessions.

Pomeroy also wrote about expectations/development -- a player's Poss% (and therefore role within the offense) for the next year could be predicted to a degree of certainty, by the Poss% of the previous year. I decided to test Pomeroy's hypothesis, "Once a player demonstrates himself to be a role player, it's unlikely he'll ever be a go-to guy and, therefore, a superstar. It's not quite a law in college basketball, but players who are not very involved in the offense tend to stay that way. Any major changes in a player's usage are usually the result of filling the hole left by a departing possession eater." against the Wildcats.

A few items of interest caught my eye during review. First and foremost, Pomeroy's assertion is largely true. With a few exceptions, each player's Poss% the next year fell within the 5-95 percentile values (and most, predictably within the 25-75 percentile values). Notice Jason Fraser's Poss% decline from 2005 to 2006. The accumulation of injuries clearly began to take a toll on his minutes (they declined...) and his ability to operate within the offense. Mike Nardi's year-over-year increase (2005 - 2007) was strong and consistent. 2005 was a low point for Mike as his role vis a vis the team was being redefined to facilitate Kyle Lowry's integration into the offense. By 2007 Mike has picked up a good deal of the possessions left by Foye, Ray and Lowry. Note also the growth in Poss% for Curt Sumpter and Dante Cunningham last season. Both are actually slightly beyond the 95th percentile projected by Pomeroy. But given the loss of Ray, Foye, Lowry (and Fraser...), the growth was not entirely shocking. That Curt lost some efficiency even as his Poss% increased is very common, and practically expected when the player is moving from "regular/starter" status to "go-to guy" status (which was indeed the way most looked to Sumpter last season). The Poss% & ORtg numbers for Bump are pretty much what Pomeroy would have predicted. Bump was not a big part of the offense in his sophomore year, there should have been no expectation that he would be his junior and (or) senior years either. Other observations from the data:

1. Those who criticize Villanova's lack of front court offense have some great data here to back their argument. Notice the Poss% for Marcus Austin & Chris Charles in 2005. While neither logged large amounts of minutes, neither did they consume large percentages of possessions when they were on the court. While one can argue that the lack of possessions (and playing time...) may have been due to their low ORtg (98.0 & 95.0 respectively), check all of the front court players, for 2005 and 2006 -- Fraser, Sheridan, Cunningham and Clark. None had more than "role player" status in the offense, despite some promising ORtgs (Clark in particular). The sole exception is Curtis Sumpter. His 2005 stats were very good, but while he played the #4 in Villanov's system, he was clearly a #3 at the next level.
2. The numbers affirm how special Randy Foye was to the team. While his Min% increased, so did his Poss% and his ORtg. The last part is especially difficult. Usually as a player moves from the "regular/starter" role to the "go-to guy" role he loses scoring efficiency (his ORtg takes a hit -- see Alan Ray's ORtg in 2006 & 2007). Foye increased his ORtg by 3.5% even as he increased his Poss% by 3.4%. Extremely unusual when Poss% reach that level. It suggests he had not yet found his optimum level.
3. Dante Cunningham's potential for growth this coming season is pretty good. His 5-95 percentile range is (approximately) 14.5 - 24 (per the charts in "Effective Usage: Putting Individual Efficiency in Context"). The large growth in his ORtg (98.4 - 110.2) even as his Min% and Poss% increased bode well for his continued development. While he will not attain "go-to guy" status in the offense, he is the best candidate (among the returning front court players) to establish himself as a "regular/starter" - type player in the offense.
4. The prospects for Shane Clark are almost as promising. Shane also increased his Poss% and ORtg even as his minutes increased. While the ORtg increase was not a eye-catching as Dante's, his "normal" growth expectation would put him at about 18.0 for Poss%; the 5 - 05 percentile projection yields a range of 14 - 23. The projection may be on the low side given that Shane's ORtg was declining at the end of the season, most likely due to his injury. He lost about 6% over the course of the last month of the season.
5. Scottie's prospects are most interesting. He finished last season with a Poss% (27.7) that suggested he was a borderline "star" - type player. The expectation for this season is that his Poss% may actually decline slightly, to about 25.5-26.0. Even the 25-75 range and the 5-95 range suggest little upward or downard movement (at most a range of 22-32). Should his Poss% decline, his ORtg will most likely increase. He will not be the sole/primary focus of the opponent's defense, and that should give him very good opportunities to score (and do it efficiently).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quick Big East Projection: 2nd Quartile

These teams will finish in the upper division of the conference. They will receive post seasons bids, more likely from the NCAA than from the NIT -- at least those teams that finish in the upper half of the quartile. Caveat emptor -- the lazy scheduler will be penalized.

2006-07 Season
OverallBig EastBET

Thumbnail (in 300 words...more or less)

  • Pittsburgh -- Lost front court players Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall (& guard Antonio Graves) off a squad that went 29-8 and ran to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAAs. Are rotation players Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young ready? They will be joined by freshmen DaJuan Blair (bf/c), Austin Wallace (redshirt freshman) & Gary McGhee (c), along with transfer Cassin Diggs (c). Young and Biggs are more athletic (and not nearly as physically dominant) as Gray (and Kendall). The back court "pipeline" is fully functional with bench players Ronald Ramon and 37 game rotational player Keith Benjamin (senior) ready to step into the spot vacated by Graves. Freshman point guard Bradley Wanamaker will learn the position from junior Levance Fields, as Fields learned it from Carl Krauser (and Krauser from Brandon Knight). The questions are how quickly will the front court rotation be ready to assume it's role in head coach Jaime Dixon's system. And whether Levance Field's off season problems with the law will force the staff to put the ball into Wanamaker's hands before he is ready.

    While Kendall was a very efficient scorer (his ORtg% was 110.9 ranked #406), his possessions and shots (from Ken Pomeroy's Pittsburgh Scout Page indicate he played, despite the minutes (64.1%), a relatively confined role in the offense. Not so with Gray, who served as a "go to" guy (Poss% & Shot% were 26.0 & 26.2 respectively) in the offense. Graves pulled "regular" type Possessions and Shots (18.4 & 19.3 respectively). Transfer Mike Cook, who played about 62.7% of the minutes on the wing (guard/forward) seems poised to pick up even more responsibility in the offensive scheme. And Sam Young, a junior who showed some promise as a freshman, might also pick up minutes and responsibilities (most likely at the #4). Young, Biggs and any others who step into Kendall's and Gray's spots will need to pick up a good many rebounds. Biggs was efficient offensively, but not especially dominant as a rebounder (OR% & DR% were 6.6 and 12.9 respectively). Young, a bit better on the offensive boards (9.2), was very average on the defensive boards (11.7). Pitt has cultivated a reputation for board domination and defense in general, but in the past 3 years the Panthers have lost four of their best front court rebounders (Troutman & Taft in 2005 and Kendall & Gray in 2007).

    The Panthers made progress offensively last season (their Adjusted ORtg went from 113.8/#21 in 2006 to 118.4/#12 in 2007), but they lost ground defensively (Adjusted DRtg declined from 89.8/#12 in 2006 to 90.4/#26 in 2007). The Panthers took better care of the ball on offense (18.2/#32), a trend that should, with several more point guards available, be maintained this season. The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy believes that redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown may become the Panther's "X Factor" this season. No matter which individual player steps into Gray's (and Kendall's) spot, the loss on offense will most likely have to come from several existing players.

  • Providence - The Friars return the nucleus of their 18-13 squad which went 2 rounds into the NIT last season. Herbert Hill is a significant loss, but junior Randall Hanke, who split time with Hill for two years prior to red shirting last season, has returned and will share time with junior Jon Kale and sophomore Ray Hall. Hanke logged some very impressive offensive stats in 2005-06, including an ORtg of 118.3 and an eFG of 67.7, while getting 54.0% of the available minutes. Having Hanke & Hill split time/responsibilities at the 5 was probably not, though obviously necessary, a particularly good outcome for either Hanke or Hill. With Hanke sidelined Hill prospered, raising his ORtg from 110.7/#373 to 114.2/#227, while simultaneously increasing (dramatically...) his minutes.

    The nucleus of four players, McDermott, Efejuku, Curry and Kale who began as freshmen (and rode the streak down from Ryan Gomes' last season at Providence) did, along with Hill, distribute the touches and shots pretty evenly. Of course Hill emerged as a "go-to guy" while McDermott appeared to be more comfortable distributing the ball much like a point forward. Hanke may well step into Hill's role this season (his 2005-06 possession and shot numbers were similar to Hill's numbers last season...but better), but hopefully McDermott will be a bit more assertive about his shot & scoring role in the offense. He is an efficient scorer (eFG 52.0, higher than Curry's), but despite his minutes, took no more than a distributor/role player-type numbers in the offense.

    This core is not alone. Also returning are sophomores Ray Hall, an Aaron Gray-type #5, Dwain Williams a backup pg who took the team through Sharaud Curry's four game suspension without missing a beat and Brian McKenzie, a wing who saw increasing minutes at the end of last season. Remarkable for a Tim Welsh team, this group, like the juniors did not disolve in the off season, as so many of Welsh's Providence teams had done in the past. The backups will be joined by yet another group of under appreciated, but possibly overlooked freshmen and transfers. Junior guard Jeff Xavier, a Providence native, transfered over from Manhantten when Bobby Gonzolaz moved over to Seton Hall. Xavier had some very decent numbers at Manhatten (117.3 ORtg, 57.5 eFG), apparently specializing in 3 point shooting, who will be looking for a spot on the wing. Three freshmen, Jamine Peterson (a 6-6 undersized #4), Marshon Brooks (6-5 point guard) and Alex Kellogg (a 6-7 forward), add a good deal of depth to the squad. The skills, while well distributed, remain somewhat underdeveloped as the freshmen did not make the Italian Exhibition Trip in August...and Hanke and Xavier played limited roles.

    The big turnaround for Providence came through defense, not offense. While they were not dominant in any category (in fact they were pretty bad at forcing turnovers -- TORate of 20.0/#223 -- and defensive rebounding -- DR% of 66.8/#152), the Friars improved significantly in field goal defense (eFG). In 2006 the Friars' defensive eFG was 50.3/#198; they improved that number last season to 49.2/#129. Their perimeter defense went from a disaster in 2006 (37.5% allowed, ranked #273) to a managable problem in 2007 (34.8/#170 -- that is not terrific, but much better). Similarly the Friars kept opponents off the free throw line better in 2007 (33.4/#101) than they did in 2006 (37.3/#195).

  • Syracuse - The Orange have to replace their entire front court from last season. Gone are starters and mainstays Mookie Watkins, Terrence Roberts and Demetris Nichols along with all-purpose front court backup Matt Gorman. Other casualties from the squad that set out together in the 2006-07 season...
    • Mike Jones - a true freshman forward who left the program after appearing in 11 games. Jones, though he had several promising games, saw congestion at the position (ie Paul Harris) and decided to move on. He later enrolled in at South Carolina, but left before the end of the spring 2007 semester.
    • Andy Rautins - a junior wing who emerged late last season as a reliable 3 point specialist. Rautins, who had the best 3 point shooting percentage (35.6%) of the returning players, was injured when playing for the Canadian National team in August and will redshirt this season.
    Despite the decimation, spirits are soaring in the Dome...the staff has brought in 5 very well regarded true freshmen and a JUCO, augmented by the reactivation of two redshirts. Point guard Jonny Flynn, the early favorite for ROY honors, will most likely start from day one. He will displace junior Josh Wright, a distribute-first, but turnover prone player who was himself well regarded when he came in with the (recruiting) class of 2005. Flynn ran the (DePaul) Jerry Wainwright-coached USA U19 team to a silver place finish this past summer in the FIBA U19 world tournament...one of the better finishes for the U19 team lately. Power forward Donte Greene, another well regarded true freshman will probably step into Terrence Robert's spot. Like Flynn, he will most likely earn the starter's job in preseason practice, though he will have to beat fellow true freshman Rick Jackson and JUCO Kristof Ongenaet for the honor. Greene also played on the U19 team, but his tournament was considerably less impressive than Flynn's. The faithful, fueled by the staff and media, are already comparing Greene to Syracuse great (also a Charm City recruit) Carmelo Anthony. Philadelphians Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson will (most likely) backup starters this season. Redshirt sophomore Arinze Onauaku, who showed promise in limited minutes as a freshman, will most likely start at the #5, backed up by true freshman Sean Williams and sophomore Devon Brennan-McBride.

    Those fans who look for a break from the past will get their wish in the form of this year's squad. Without Rautins & the departed Nichols, the Orange will have to find point production from sources other than those present on the squad last year. Junior Eric Devendorf cannot single handedly carry the team. Sophomore Paul Harris will most likely see more minutes and will, consequently have an opportunity to prove the expectations going into last season were not unfounded. But even if Devendorf and Harris can move beyond co-existence and actually work together they will not be enough to replace the scoring from Nichols, Roberts, Watkins, Gorman & Rautins.

    Syracuse's DRtg (adjusted) was 90.9/#28 in 2006-07, earning the Orange a rank of #6 in the Big East. A look at the Defensive factors reveals that the lofty rank is due entirely to shot defense. The Orange had an outstanding defensive eFG of 43.7/#7 to go along with a decent FTRate of 31.1/#62. Those two factors alone put Syracuse among the top 10% in D1 defense. Their ability to force turnovers (TORate 19.8/#241) and grab defensive rebound (DR% 63.6/#297) pulled their rating down. Whether Boeheim decides to stay with his 2-3 zone (would help eFG) or abandon it in favor of a man-to-man schemes (more suitable to Harris' strengths?) may well influence who (and how much) he plays from among all his available parts.

  • Villanova - The Wildcats lose seniors Mike Nardi (pg), Will Sheridan (bf) and (redshirt senior) Curtis Sumpter (sf/pf) from a 21-11 (not counting the win over NAIA Northwood) squad that went to the NCAAs as a #9 seed. Sophomores (Big East 2005-06 ROY) Scottie Reynolds & Reggie Redding, along with juniors Dante Cunningham & Shane Clark form the core of a junior (Dwayne Anderson & Frank Tschuisi) and sophomore (Casiem Drummond) dominated squad. They will be joined by redshirt freshmen Andrew Ott and Antonio Pena, and true freshmen Corey Fisher (NJ POY 2007), Malcolm Grant (NYC PSAL POY 2006) and Corey Stokes (MDAA 2007). Reynolds (another MDAA) started slowly last season, but assumed "go-to guy" status for the Wildcats as Clark, Sumpter and Nardi struggled through a series of dings & bumps. The 'Cats are healthy again which should reduce significantly the need for a Scottie-centric offense. Clark (2007 ORtg of 106.8 with role-player status), Cunningham 2007 ORtg of 106.8 with role-player status, Drummond (2007 ORtg of 99.1 with very limited minutes) should, along with well regarded guard Reggie Redding (2007 ORtg of 86.5 with role-player status), get touches (and shots) when they are on the court. If the charts Ken Pomeroy published in his recent basketballprospectus.com article "Effective Usage: Putting Individual Efficiency in Context" are accurate, the chances are good (about 50/50) that Scottie will reduce his usage slightly next season (that should actually raise his efficiency) while Cunningham and Clark (about the same odds) obtain a higher percentage of the possessions and shots (thereby assuming a larger role) in the offense. As second and third options in the offense both players should be able to maintain (possibly increase) their efficiencies.

    Villanova fans kept one eye on the high school news last season, following the progress of Stokes, Grant and Fisher, all of whom had committed to the Main Line school in the first half of 2006. Anticipation over an incoming group (plus the redshirted Ott and Pena) has not been this high since Fraser, Foye, Ray and Sumpter enrolled in the fall of 2002. While the three true freshmen will provide help in the back court, Ott or Pena (Pena most likely, accoring to Blue Ribbon) will pull minutes in the front court. Fisher may well earn the starting role in preseason practice, but if the Ottawa Exhibition Tour (4 games in 3 days versus Canadian college teams over the Labor Day Weekend) is any indication, Grant will provide some serious competition for minutes. Corey Stokes a 6-5 MDAA, will join Reggie Redding and junior Dwayne Anderson on the wing. He should also compete for minutes right from the start. Combined with redshirt freshman Antonio Pena, slated to see minutes in the front court with Cunningham, Clark and (maybe) Drummond, the frontcourt should have depth and scoring potential. Having a team on the court with four or five letigimate scorers will be something of a new experience.

    Villanova's defense was the strong point last season, and an ongoing point of emphasis for the staff. Although the team did not excel at any particular element (field goal defense, turnovers, rebounding or free throw/fouling) the 'Cats performed well enough at most to earn an adjusted DRtg of 89.1/#18 -- see Ken Pomeroy's Villanova Scout Page. The best part of the defense was turnovers where Nova was able to force turnovers in about 1 in 5 of their opponent's possessions (TORate 23.1/#60). Villanova also did an adequate job defensing the shot (eFG 48.2/#94 -- 2 point defense was very good, 45.0/#48...their downfall was perimeter defense 35.2/#206) and defensive rebounding (DR% 67.9/#96). Their difficulties involved fouling (FTRate 42.0/#262), an inability to keep their opponents off the free throw line. The staff will no doubt drill defense again this season.

Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Providence, Syracuse and Villanova -- this "upper middle" was difficult to sort out. I could have put any of the 5 in the 1st quartile (and labeled them "Most Likely to Move Down a Quartile"). The nod went to Connecticut because the Huskies return the highest percentage of their minutes from last year. And continuity is an important factor in how much progress a team can make year-over-year. With the talent level in the Big East and expectations rising every year over who will jump, continuity cannot be underrated (though talent counts high as well -- and maybe that is the question to be answered by the Huskies). of the teams in this quartile, Pittsburgh returns 59.1% of last year's minutes along with 4 of the 7 players who recorded at least one start (of the 37 games, Ron Ramon started 1 and Sam Young started 2). Providence returns 84.1% of last year's minutes along with 7 of the 8 players who started at least one game. The Orange return a paltry 38.8% of the minutes and 3 of the 8 players who started at least one game (Paul Harris started a single game last year). Villanova returns 53.0% of last year's minutes. A total of 7 players (Clark, Cunningham, Nardi, Redding, Reynolds, Sheridan and Sumpter) recorded at least one start last year, and 4 of those players (Clark, Cunningham, Redding and Reynolds) return.

Most Likely to...(and why):

  • Move Up a Quartile...
    • Providence -- one team I would like to name here. Tim Welsh's tenure was marked early on by very inconsistent teams, due largely (but not exclusively) to a revolving door on the locker room. Under Welsh the Friars have shown a talent for finding the overlooked (discarded?) talent, but that knack has carried a price. The player who showed promise as a freshman flamed out as a sophomore (and created discord on his way out the door?). The key to the 2005-06 squad's success came because those promising freshmen stayed and progressed as sophomores. If they can carry that forward (and the underclassmen continue to develop as well) for this season very good things will happen. But I really like the continuity developed by the Pittsburgh program going back to the days of Ben Howland. Jaime Dixon has negotiated the transition from Howland's plodding offense while maintaining the Panter's elite status in the conference. Should Connecticut (or Marquette!?) falter, I would not be surprised to see either the Panthers or Friars take the last bye spot in the Big East Tournament.

  • Move Down a Quartile...
    • Syracuse -- see the 2006-07 Connecticut team. Despite arguably the best recruiting class in the Big East (DePaul fans may want to dispute that contention), the Orange have a good deal of ground to make up. Quickly. The two recognized returning leaders, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris (both reputed to have short tempers and don't back down attitudes...) started off badly last year. During recent Midnight Madness festivities the two engaged in a "give away competition" with Harris tossing his shoes into the wildly cheering crowd (he later had to retrieve them so he could compete in the Dunk Contest...) while Devendort shed his practice t-shirt and tossed it into the crowd (no word on whether he ever got it back...). Winning will no doubt paper over any lingering differences and smooth out animousities. But the pressure will be on very early to win. Losing might make this very ugly very early...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Quick Big East Projection: The First Quartile

While I love to read predictions I hate to make them. Consider that in the past three (or so) months...

  • Syracuse's Andy Rautins suffered an knee injury while playing for the Canadian National Team. He will redshirt this season.
  • Louisville's Edgar Sosa sprained his ankle (again).
  • Marquette's Trevor Mbakwe passed the NCAA Clearing house only in the second week of October. The team has been in 5 player workouts for nearly a month.
  • Louisville's backup freshman center Clarence Holloway had open heart surgery last month.
  • Georgetown's MDAA freshman point guard Chris Wright broke his foot in a pickup game on 9/26, and will miss (at least) the first part of the season.
  • Cincinnati's MDAA transfer (from Texas) Mike Williams broke his ankle early this month and will redshirt this season. He was projected to play the #3 or #4 for Mick Cronin's Bearcats.
  • Providence's Sharaud Curry broke his foot the first week of October. He will be out 6 weeks...at least.
  • Louisville's Juan Palacios injured his knee (MLS) in the second full practice October 13. After an extensive examination the team physician has determined he may be ready to play in early December. Palacios is the second returning Cardinal to make this IR list.
  • Notre Dame's Luke Harangody has torn a ligament in his right thumb. He will be out 4 - 6 weeks.
2006-07 Season
OverallBig EastBET

Louisville and Georgetown are the most obvious picks for this quartile. Both programs return, virtually intact, talented and successful squads from last year. Rick Pitino and John Thompson III run (good) offensive and defensive schemes that the players have embraced. Both look to their entering classes to provide more talent and depth. But neither coach needs the freshmen to provide "vital parts" to the team.

Team Thumbnail (in 300 words or less)

  • Connecticut -- Last season began and ended with the defense. The Huskies were first in D1 in shot defense. They held opponents to 39.7% for 2 point attempts and 31.3% for 3 point attempts. Their opponents got the message and limited 3 point attempts to 30.5% of their total field goal attempts. Connecticut had four shot blockers in D1's Top 500, led by Hasheem Thabeet (16.6, ranked #6 in D1), Jeff Adrien (4.2, #239), Stanley Robinson (3.1, #367) and Marcus Johnson (2.9, #414).

    That ability to dominate defensively served UConn well earlier in the season. The staff front loaded the schedule with a large number of easy teams played in front of a home crowd. Despite a few early warnings (notably the opener against Quinnipiac in which the Huskies had to stage a second half rally to win by 7 points), Connecticut won most of those games by very large margins (the 43 point victory over Sacred Heart followed by the 51 point victory over Texas Southern come to mind). The squad's athleticism allowed them to score easily against lesser opponents, thereby masking problems with the offense that were only later exposed when the Huskies faced opponents with comparable athletic abilities (and better defensive skills). On 12/23/06 for example Connecticut had an eFG% of 54.1 (ranked #54 in D1, #7 in the Big East) and a turnover rate of 20.3 (ranked #71 in D1 and #8 in the Big East). By season's end (04/02/07) UConn's numbers fell to 46.3 (#284, #15) and 21.2 (#166, #12) respectively.

    Aside from power forward Jeff Adrien the front court contingent was especially sloppy. Thabeet (24.5), Kelly (30.6!) and Robinson (24.2) were especially prone to losing the ball. But they had a lot of company. The principal ball handlers (until the last three or so weeks of the season...), AJ Price and Doug Wiggins, both lost over 1 in 5 possessions. It is hardly a coincidence that two of the more efficient scorers, Craig Austrie and Jerome Dyson, were also two players with the best TORate (15.6 & 16.4 respectively, according to Ken Pomeroy's Connecticut Scout Page).

    In projecting Connecticut as a Top 25 team in the preseason of last year, many forgot the major roles were slated to go to freshmen and sophomores. With a consistency rating of 27.1 the Huskies were ranked in the 90th percentile in D1 basketball. And re-enforce the conclusion this team was too young and lacked experience. Connecticut had only three games decided by 5 points or less. All three were played after New Year's and on Connecticut's home court. And the Huskies lost all three. Pomeroy calculated Connecticut's "luck" at -0.117, good for #332 (out of 336 in D1 bball last year). Pomeroy translated that Luck Rating into -3.6 wins. A "luck neutral" record would have been 21-10. Their post season would definitely have extended past New York City (and the BET).

  • Georgetown -- Forward Jeff Green is the only loss on a team that compiled a 30-7 record on their run to the National Semi-Final last season. Green was a great Hoya, but he can be replaced. Georgetown's steady progress, marked annually over John Thompson III's three year tenure, suggests the players have embraced the coach's approach to the game. And the coach is very good at matching players to roles. Even with a higher than average turnover rate (22.0, ranked 213th overall and 13th in the Big East -- see Georgetown Scout Page on Ken Pomeroy's website), the Hoyas were able to efficiently put points on the board through their shooting and, should they miss the shot, an offensive rebounding proficiency that retained 4 in 10 missed shots. That means they, nearly as often as not, had a second chance field goal attempt. Georgetown was ranked 3rd nationally in raw offensive efficiency, earning about 1.16 points per possession (converts to an ORtg% of 116.0). Of the 37 D1 games played last season, the Hoyas recorded an offensive efficiency of 104.5 or higher in 30 (for a record of 29-1 in those games). Want to beat the Hoyas? Keep their offensive efficiency at 102.7 or lower. Georgetown was 1-6 in those games. Eight of the ten players earning > 10% of the minutes at their position earned ORtgs of 101.8 or better. Not surprisingly, the low man on that list was freshman DaJuan Summers, the newest "regular" in Coach Thompson's Princeton Offense. Center Roy Hibbert with an ORtg of 130.8 was ranked 4th nationally.

    While senior Jon Wallace may have drawn attention as the outside threat (Jeff Green and Patrick Ewing were not too shabby either), Georgetown was in fact, relatively restrained on the perimeter. And with good cause -- they were hitting 2 point FGAs at a 0.578 (57.8%) clip, good for a #2 rank nationally. Hibbert was nearly automatic from the lane, hitting 0.671 of his shots. Patrick Ewing (0.585), Jeff Green (0.559), Jesse Sapp (0.595) and Jon Wallace (0.528) were not far off Hibbert's pace.

    Georgetown ranked #10 nationally in defensive eFG% (see Ken Pomeroy's Defensive Factors Page, sorted by eFG; scroll down to the Big East) which ranked them 3rd in the Big East. They were able to get back on defense and contest the shots. Having a very capable shot blocking center (Roy Hibbert) was extremely helpful. Though in fairness there were two others (freshman DaJuan Summers -- 3.0, #380 and junior Jeff Green -- 4.3, #233) who also earned Top 500 numbers.

  • Louisville -- The Cardinals lost senior Brandon Jenkins from last year's squad. Jenkins, a 6-3 guard who was injured in the preseaon and had limited effectiveness during the OOC portion of the season, started 17 of the last 19 games and logged 60.1% of the minutes -- 3rd highest on the team -- at his position (off guard). Such is the optimism of the Cardinal faithful that his loss has been mentioned or contemplated not at all in the off season. The fans and many observers believe this year's Cardinals will be much better than last year's edition. Good enough possibly to run to the Final Four. Most fans remember the last 25 games of the season (19-6), but not the first 8 (4-4, including consecutive losses to A10 Massachusetts and archrival Kentucky to end that run).

    The Cardinals return every other starter and significant contributor from last season -- sophomore Edgar Sosa (currently nursing an ankle sprain) starter at #1, Jerry Smith, sometime starter (along with departed Brandon Jenkins) at #2, junior Terrence Williams, full-year starter at #3, Juan Palacios, a senior who split starts with (then freshman, now sophomore) Earl Clark, at the #4 and senior David Padgett who split starts with (then freshman, now sophomore) Derrick Caracter at the #5. Add in backup point junior Andre McGee, backup #5 Terrance Farley (senior), substitute Will Scott (#3 -- a junior wing who specialized in 3s) for an experienced 10 man rotation. They will not all get PT consistently, especially when freshmen Preston Knowles (a 6-1 guard) and George Goode (a 6-8 forward)

    Louisville players had a hard time getting David Padgett & Jerry Smith the ball. David Padgett had the highest ORtg in D1 basketball last season -- 134.3, but saw <60% of the PT at his position and had little better than "role player" status in the offense. While fans have no doubt been disappointed that Padgett has not been able to play a complete season (after transferring over from Kansas Padget sat in 2004-05, played through the middle of February in 2005-06 and stopped for surgery. Last season he was again plagued with chronic ache and pains, etc.). Jerry Smith's stats tell a similar story. He played about 50% of the time at the wing and saw relatively few scoring opportunities, though his ORtg%, 118.4 was nearly Top 100 (ranked #104). Jenkins has graduated, so Smith may well see more time on the wing.

  • Marquette -- The Warriors return virtually their entire squad, losing only Jamil Lott, a 6-7 JUCO who logged 22.7% of the PT at the forward position. And Coach Tom Crean adds transfer Maurice Acker (from Butler, Horizon Conference ROY in 2005) who will backup Dominic James at pg to go with freshman bf Trevor Mbekwe, who was recently cleared (by the NCAA) to play. Mbekwe's status has been in limbo since last June.

    In many respects last season was a search for Steve Novak. Or at least his replacement. Novak was responsible for a large part of MU's offense in 2005-06. He provided the Warriors with that very rare combination of a lot of playing time (83.8% at his position -- he played the #4 -- with prolific (23.8% Shot%) and efficient scoring (eFG% was 64.3). He had, according to Ken Pomeroy's Marquette Scout Page (2006) the highest ORtg among D1 players. That's pretty difficult to replace, especially given the amount of time he played. Coach Crean was faced with several options last season:
    1. Go with Dan Fitzgerald, a junior player with many of the same characteristics as Novak. While Fitzgerald was almost as efficient (ORtg of 121.8; eFG% of 63.2) he was not as prolific a scorer (16.6 %Shots vs 23.8) and was prone to turn the ball over more than Novak (19.0 TORate vs 9.7)...and assist a bit less. Or...
    2. Go with Lazar Hayward, a long and lean freshman with terrific offensive rebounding skills and a propensity to shoot/score, but do it far less efficiently than Novak (or Fitzgerald for that matter).
    As for Marquette's backcourt trio, Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, the news was mixed. James, coming off an extremely promising freshman year showed virtually no progress as a sophomore. While he showed a modest decline in his FGM percentages, his assist rate and turnover rate both improved modestly. He was more successful getting to the line & better at hitting his free throws (but with an FTM of .651, there remains a lot of room for improvement...hurting Marquette's opponents at the charity stipe is not a reliable part of his skill at this point). Jerel McNeal, like James, had a "more of the same" type year. He is a master ballhawk who loses the ball himself; a ferocious defender who has difficulty shooting; an outstanding distributor whose turnovers nearly cancel his assists. Wesley Matthews is the only one of the three who showed solid year-over-year improvement. His ORtg (99.1 vs 106.1) improved even as his PT increased (45.8 vs 77.5). Steady progress from Matthews (and maybe growth from James/McNeal) will be necessary to improve the Warriors' lot. Cutting down on the shots and bringing others (Hayward? Fitzgerald? Barro? Mbekwe? Cubillan) into the offensive system would be helpful. When those three were on the floor together last season they accounted for over ¾ (77.4) of the shots taken and nearly 4/5 (79.8) of MU's possessions ended with one of them. There are more efficient scorers in the rotation (Fitzgerald, Cubillan), the team's ORtg and scoring should improve if someone else is taking that shot. And scoring efficiently was the key for Marquette last season. Their team eFG 49.4 (very close to the D1 average). When MU recorded an eFG < 49.4 they went 6-9. When they were > 49.4 their record was 18-1.

The common element shared by each team? They return nearly all of their rosters from last year. Some may question the true value of Connecticut's rotation, but the Huskies bring back 98.9% of the minutes from last year's team. That return rate also means that 7 of the 8 players who had at least one start from last year's squad are coming back. Georgetown, hit the hardest with the loss of forward Jeff Green still managed to return 5 of the 7 players who started at least one game. Marc Eggerson, the other non-returner left the team in January. The impact of his loss was felt (and addressed) last season. The Hoyas return 78.7% of last year's playing time. Marquette which finished in the 5 - 7 cluster last season, but went out in the first round of the NCAAs, returns 7 of the 8 players who started at least one game. The Warriors bring back 94.0% of their PT from last year's squad. Louisville will return 8 of last year's 10 starters from the squad that ran to the second round of the NCAAs. Returning Cardinals played 82.3% of the minutes last year. Having talent is great. Having continuity and a shared memory, in addition to a talented cohort is key.

Most Likely to...(and why):

  • Take the #1 Seed in the BET...
    • Georgetown -- Roy Hibbert...and the Princeton Offense. John Thompson III appears to have established a system that to date, has recruited, delivered and incubated (for a year or so) the talent necessary to sustain the success of the program. While the Big East coaches whispered that Jeff Green was the Most Coveted Hoya, Georgetown's year-over-year improvement paralleled Roy Hibbert's progress, not Jeff Green's. Green had a very uneven sophomore campaign, but the Hoyas advanced into the NCAAs as Hibbert went from a 10 minute man to an 18 minute man. His offensive statistics are terrific; Thompson must be estatic that he is back. If Georgetown follows the pattern of prior years, expect them to have a headscratcher or two during the OOC part of their schedule. As the Big East season wears on however, the Hoyas will develop momentum as the new player, Austin Freeman is integrated into the lineup and regulars Patrick Ewing, DeJuan Summers, Jon Wallace, Roy Hibbert and Jesse Sapp continue to develop their rapport. The Big East regular season race should come down to two horses -- Louisville and Georgetown. At this point Georgetown has fewer unanswered questions.

  • Move Down a Quartile...
    • Connecticut -- The Huskies problems are on the offensive end of the court. They appeared to lack a floor leader at times last year, especially at those points in tight games when they really needed one. Jerome Dyson demonstrated he is capable of putting points on the board, but against better competition the Huskies will need more than one option on offense. Who among the probable starters and regular rotation will step in and become the reliable second/third/fourth option? I assume at this point, that Price (#1), Dyson (#2), Robinson (#3), Ardrien (#4), Thabeet (#5) will start, while Austrie (backup #1, #2), Johnson (backup #3), Kelly (backup #4/#5), Wiggins (backup #1/#2) will take major minutes and others Mandeldove (backup #5) and freshman Donnell Beverly (backup #1) will get minor minutes. Adrien and Thabeet (for very different reasons) were not effective offensively in the low post. Thabeet may make progress, but will that be enough to take the pressure (read attention of the defense...) off of Adrien? While Marcus Johnson was reasonably accurate with his 2 pointers (0.502), he struggled greatly with his 3 point shot (0.267) and was not especially reliable for point production. The staff seemed to favor the more athletic Stanley Robinson for Johnson's #3 spot as the Big East opened. Robinson showed a little better accuracy and production from the 3 (but still a lackluster 0.381), but he struggled (0.371) inside the 3 point line. Point production may well have to come from the back court...and that could be problematic. While Price was well regarded coming into Storrs back in 2004, he played not at all in 2004-05 (medical) or 2005-06 (medical/legal). And there may be a question as to how much can realistically be expected from him. Should AJ continue to struggle, the staff may again try to rotate Wiggins and Austrie (an all purpose back court backup brought in when Price and Marcus Williams were facing legal problems in 2006-07) through the position. If Beverly is pulling down large amounts of time at point guard the Huskies are probably in trouble.