Monday, October 29, 2007

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.

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

  • 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.

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