Thursday, November 29, 2007

Preview -- Pennsylvania Quakers

The Wildcats-Quakers series goes back to the very beginnings of both programs. Penn records say the first game was played in the 1909-10 season. Penn won 39-11 (hmmm, that game could have been played in 1970...). The teams next met in 1921-22, Villanova's first year of "official record keeping". The 'Cats played a better game, but still lost by 4 (27-23). The series took a 34 year hiatus, returning with the birth of the Big 5 in the mid 1950s. The Wildcats and Quakers met on February 8 1956 in the Palestra where the Wildcats won by 15 (89-74). And the 'Cats have never looked back. Aside from a series of alternate year interruptions during the 1990s, the two teams have met annually (sometimes twice a season) since 1956. The 'Cats now lead the series 37-17 (or if you check Penn's records, 37-18), making this the most one-sided of all Villanova's Big 5 Rivalries (0.685). In the last decade Villanova has run up a 8-2 record versus UPenn. With conference commitments the games have come to be scheduled early in the season; the clash Saturday will be the earliest meeting ever between the two programs. Series record with Villanova aside, Pennsylvania has been a dominant and (along with Princeton) well respected program in the otherwise decidedly mid-major Ivy League, and is one of the 25 winningest programs (by percentage) in D1 basketball. This will be the second meeting between Jay Wright and Pennsylvania Head Coach Glen Miller. Coach Miller has brought an uptempo style of play to the Philadelphia school, and is reworking the team to accommodate the faster pace. Whether the quicker style of play will reverse the Quaker's fortunes at the hands of the Wildcats remains to be seen...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a D and the bench/depth a C-. CHN ranked Penn #150 in their preseason preview. Bulletin sports writer (and Hoops Heaven Blogger) Brendan Quinn wrote...

"Times have changed and so has the pecking order of the Ancient Eight. With the departures of two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Ibrahim Jabber and do-it-all workhorse Mark Zoller, Miller losses 58.2 percent of his scoring and 50.2 percent of his rebounding from a year ago.
'I'm excited with this young group,' Miller said. 'They have a lot to prove because of how much we lost. We have some talented, but unproven guys here who are looking to step up.'...

- Brendan F. Quinn, Looking for a New Identity

Blue Ribbon, Athlon and Lindy's project Penn to finish somewhere between #2 - #4.

...How Penn's young players develop as the season unfolds also will have an impact on the race [for the Ivy League championship]. Despite a starting lineup that could include two sophomores and two freshmen, Miller isn't ready to concede yet another league championship (his current program has won seven of the last nine) just yet. He understands the pressure of being the favorite, having guided a loaded Penn team to the title last season in his first year in West Philadelphia....
- ESPN, 8/28/07, "Shoot Around: Is This the End of an Era?"

Why Everyone Believes...
...Coach Miller and the Penn faithful had a super trio of players in Ibby Jabar, Matt Zoller and Steve Danley. But the cupboard is hardly bare as 2 year starter and second team All-Ivy guard Brian Grandieri leads a Junior and Sophomore laden squad (with a fortuitously recruited freshman or two) into another campaign. Grandieri (senior, 6-4, 190lb) is the recognized leader who will work the backcourt with career backup Michael Kach (senior, 6-4, 195lb), Aron Cohen (junior, 6-2, 180lb), backup KenEgee (junior, 6-3, 175lb), Tyler Bernardini (senior, 6-4, 195lb) and Remy Gofield (freshman, 6-4, 205lb). Juniors Cameron Lewis (forward, 6-8, 220lb) and Brennan Votel (forward, 6-7, 215lb) head up a front court contingent that includes sophomores Andreas Schreiber (center, 6-9, 235lb) and Justin Reilly (forward, 6-8, 225lb) and freshman Jack Eggleston (forward, 6-8, 215lb). The staff is not starting from scratch, as the juniors and sophomores saw various amounts of playing time last season.

So Far...
...Penn brings a 2-5 record into this game. Wins include a 16 point victory over the Citadel (Southern, 3-3, RPI #285) and Navy (Patriot, 2-6, RPI #283). Their losses include an 8 point decision to Drexel (CAA, 5-1, RPI #49), a 21 point rout at the hands of Loyola of Maryland (MAAC, 4-3, RPI #83) and two 15 point losses to Howard (MEAC, 3-4, RPI #130) and Virginia (ACC, 6-1, RPI #39) respectively. Their latest outing was a 12 point loss to Lafayette (Patriot, 4-2, #252). The 'Cats and Quakers have not shared any opponents this year, though both will see the balance of the Big 5 contingent before season's end.

Penn By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years Penn has, with a single dip in 2003-04 (#121), kept their RPI in double digits. They have ranged between #59 and #94, finishing last year at #88. Penn is a higher than average pace team this season (73.8 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's University of Pennsylvania Scout Page which ranks the Quakers #77 out of approx. 341 - the current average for pace is 69.2). Penn's efficiency numbers from Pomeroy's Scout Page...

Penn's 4 Factors

University of Pennsylvania appears to be farther along on offense than defense. Villanova's offense should prove especially challenging for Penn's defense. The Wildcat's eFG is not particularly good, but their OR% is among the best in D1. The 'Cats may miss shots, but they will get extra chances. Penn does not force many turnovers, they may not be able to level the field by reducing "first chance" FGAs. Villanova's defense has been the weak point to date. Nova has yielded about 1.03 points per possession, a rate far too high to win consistently in the Big East. But a sight for sore eyes for a Quaker team that has been able to score only 0.98 points per possession. Penn has been far more effective shooting 2s (50.4%, #121) than 3s (28.9%, #288), but then so were George Mason and NCSU...

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...The front court contingent includes forwards Jack Eggleston, Justin Reilly, Cameron Lewis and Breenan Votel. With the exception of Votel all have started at least one game, and virtually all have seen minutes in every one of Penn's six games. Sophomore center Andreas Schreiber has started 2 games and seen minutes in all games as well. Miller has gone with youth for the last 3 Quaker games and started the freshman Jack Eggleston and sophomore Andreas Schreiber with 3 guards. The Quaker offense is primarily guard oriented, but Schreiber does take about 21% of the available shots when he is on the floor, suggesting he has a "regular" role in the offense. The other frontcourt players are routinely "role" players with respect to the offense. Virtually all are, however, efficient in their scoring -- all but Votel have PPWSs above 1.05, while Schreiber and Eggleston have eFGs >60.0 (Reilly and Lewis' eFGs are in the 40s...Votel brings up the rear at 36.1). The strongest rebounder in the group is Schreiber whose 21.7 defensive rebounding percentage is Top 250. The balance of the frontcourt ranges from average ( for a forward, Eggleston at 14.6) down to mediocre (Reilly at 11.8). The Quaker paint players are not especially strong at offensive rebounding. Schreiber, with an 8.0 rebounding percentage (just abover average) is bested by guard Brian Grandieri. The Wildcats will most likely start Cunningham and Clark (if he is healthy). Drummond, who had a very encouraging series of games in Orlando will certainly see minutes early if he does not start. The balance of the frontcourt rotation, Pena, Stokes and Ott, will see minutes if the 'Cats can control the flow of the game early. Or if one of the first three is unable to go full speed. Game pace may be the key to the frontcourt's durability.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Miller will draw from a pool of Brian Grandieri, Tyler Bernardini, Michael Kach, Harrison Gaines, Aron Cohen, Remy Cofield and Kevin Eges for his starters and substititutes. Grandieri and Bernardini have been starters for most of the young season. The staff has shown a preference lately for a third guard and Gaines is the guard whose number they have called. Kach and Cofield have also started at least once so far. Eges and Cohen have appeared in every game so far. Conor Turley, Joe Gill and Dan Monckton are farther down on the bench. If they see the floor the 'Cats are probably way up or way down. The offense provides much of the Quaker's offense. Between them Grandieri and Bernardini take over 51% of the shots when they are on the floor together. They are efficient as well as prolific. Both have eFGs >50.0 and PPWSs > 1.10. Very decent numbers for players who draw the most attention from opposing defenses. The staff will start 2 or 3 from Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Corey Fisher and Malcolm Grant. If he is drawing breath, Scottie Reynolds will start. Redding has started every game this season and has played the best basketball of his career at Villanova. He will most likely get the nod for this game too. Fisher scored 21 points in 32 minutes of play versus North Carolina State Sunday. His eFG was 50.0 and his PPWS was 1.03 (he missed all of his 3s) -- very good numbers for a freshman playing his 4th collegiate game. If he does not start he will come off the bench early. Grant will also see minutes. If the first 5 games show a trend, he will see at least 10 minutes over the course of the game.

Final Thoughts...
...When sophomore iron man Darren Smith tore his knee up in the first 7 minutes of the Drexel (Penn's openning) game Coach Miller began the basketball equivalent of a google search through his bench to find a replacement. He went through 13 players. In the first half. Ten different players have started with various combinations over the first 7 games. This is partly in response to the loss of Smith, and partly a function of the pace that Miller likes to have his teams set right from the beginning of the game. Villanova managed to finally subdue a very experienced Quaker squad last year in the highest paced game (78.2) they played all season. The Wildcat defensive effort was the second worst (DRtg -- 113.8) they registered last season. The Quakers practically scored at will from the 3 point line (62.5%) during that game and they were able to get to the line 4 times for every 5 FGAs they took (FTRate 82.2). The 'Cats won because they controlled the defensive boards and forced the Quakers to turnover a devastatingly high 32% their possessions. The danger for the Wildcats is that they are fast and athletic -- they will be able to keep pace (for time anyway) with the Penn team -- and they may give in to the temptation to try. They are more efficient when they take the time to set up their offense and wait for those opportunities to score in bursts. Villanova's backcourt-oriented squad that shoots from the perimeter on offense and traps and presses on defense is often described as a fast-paced team. But the team does not have, nor has ever employed end-to-end speed as an offensive strategy. The tempo is by and large controlled, and the speed comes in bursts (often described as spurts). In terms of game pace Villanova is, over the course of a season, rarely more than 1 - 2 possessions over or under the average pace for all of D1.

Penn was competitive with a not especially strong Lafayette team for about 30 minutes on Wednesday evening. Coach Miller continues to search his roster for answers, and he may find them by the start of Ivy League play in January. But his Quakers face the Wildcats on Saturday, so time is short. The Villanova staff has questions too, but unlike Penn, Villanovas choices are a bit less Hobbsian. If the 'Cats can control the game early the staff may want to find out how far along some of the deeper parts of the bench have come.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Player Stats for the First Five Games

I have stats for the first 5 games. I wanted to wait until after the Old Spice Classic on the theory that the neutral court and opponents not hand picked by the program might give a better idea of how the team is progressing. I thought the offering of opponents was very good. UCF had a very experienced backcourt that featured an excellent three point shooter in Mike O'Donnell and good ball handlers in Chris Cartwright and Dave Noel. George Mason also threw an experienced squad at the young 'Cats. With Will Thomas & Folarin Campbell in the front court combined with Jordan Carter and John Vaughan's play in the backcourt challenged the 'Cats in both areas on virtually every possession. NCSU's frontcourt reputation preceeded them, but the backcourt play of Courtney Fells and Farnold Degand was (unpleasantly) surprisingly strong. A very good 3 game test for the squad.

S Reynolds89.019.023.747.51.0654.117.317.4
D Cunningham78.522.517.947.10.9817.64.720.3
R Redding69.516.916.566.71.3740.712.714.5
Shane Clark68.022.724.156.81.2334.111.911.5
C Drummond54.024.519.362.11.1541.48.214.8
Corey Fisher45.027.826.646.50.9427.916.34.7
Malcolm Grant37.517.623.678.11.5775.09.813.6
Corey Stokes30.59.68.529.40.59NA7.212.6
Antonio Pena20.57.27.628.60.53128.67.219.5

I have ordered the data by playing time (Scottie is first because he has played 89.0% of the available minutes) and excluded players who have logged less than 20.0% of the minutes at their positions. Links to explanations for each of the stats except Scoring Percentage (Scr%) can be found in the Possession-based Stats Explained Section in the left margin.

To those who have been concerned that the front court would not get their touches and that Scottie might assume too large a role in the offense the numbers to date suggest that is not happening. Shane has gotten regular-type numbers of shots, while Drummond and Cunningham are not far behind. Dante's 17.9% is on the margins of role-player/regular status. If he continues to hit his shot his role most likely will grow a bit more. As suggested by their eFG and PPWS numbers both Shane and Casiem are very efficient. Scottie's Shot% (19.0) was lower than I thought it would be. Given his large amount of playing time it appears he is getting a lot of shots, but in reality he is about "average" for a 5 man line-up. His PPWS is slightly ahead of last season's ending number (1.04). Many have remarked on Reggie Redding's turnaround on offense. The numbers (his eFG & PPWS) back up that perception. I found it interesting that he is still, despite the increased minutes, a "role player" according to his Shot% (16.9 -- like Dante he is near "regular" type touches/shooting, but a bit farther away than Dante). Note also that Shot% and Scr% are fairly evenly distributed among the first six.

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 2

I have been participating in The Big East's Blogger Poll this season. I debated whether to publish my ballot (or would that just take up time and space that could go to other more interesting topics) and initially decided not to. But in honor of Olean Times-Herald St. Bonaventure beat writer Vinny Pezzimenti, who casts a vote in the AP Weekly Top 25 poll, I decided that taking the high road by disclosing my ballot so my choices may be scrutinized and (if anyone cares) discussed/justified would the better course.

Vinny Pezzimenti according to CBS Sportline's Gary Parrish's blog (Parrish the Thought) Vinny left Villanova off his ballot this week but did include George Washington University (A10) at #25. Parrish was puzzled about this choice because Pezzimenti had not voted for GW before this week. And GW dropped a 10 point decision to University of Maryland - Baltimore County in their only game last week...

  1. Georgetown
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Louisville
  4. Marquette
  5. Villanova
  6. Syracuse
  7. Connecticut
  8. Providence
  9. West Virginia
  10. Seton Hall
  11. Notre Dame
  12. St. John's
  13. South Florida
  14. DePaul
  15. Rutgers
  16. Cincinnati
  • Down this Week:
    • Louisville - dropped a game to unranked BYU. The long term prognosis without Padgett (and Palacios?) concerns me. Clark will be very good, but the Cards have lost Holloway and Goode in addition to Padgett and Palacios.
    • Marquette - a silly loss to Duke.
    • Notre Dame - I started them at #9 in the preseason. Those 2 close losses reminded me too much of that bad luck run they had in 2005-06.
    • St. John's - How serious is Mason's injury? The official press release just before their season opener asserted he would be out for a single game. An NY Post story yesterday suggested it would be longer. Johnnies are pounding cupcakes right now & the freshmen all look good.
  • Up This Week:
    • Pittsburgh - they are feasting on pastries (except Rick Majerus' St. Louis squad...) at home, but there are a few points of comparison. Buffalo for example lost to UConn by 25, beat USF by 6 and lost to Pitt by 47. North Carolina A&T lost to Pitt by 25 and beat DePaul (at DePaul) by 3. The Panthers will see Washington (at Washington), Oklahoma State and Duke (in Madison Square Garden) over the next 3+ weeks. Their margin of victory will come down, and if they continue to win they will probably keep the #2 spot.
    • Seton Hall - After an uncertain start the Pirates went into Penn's Palestra and took two games in the Big 5 Classic, the first from Navy, and the second from the ACC's Virginia. The Cavs were projected as middle of the pack finishers in the ACC. That's better than preseason predictions for SHU.

I did not vote for player of the week or newcomer (rookie/freshman) of the week. I will next week though. If I had the ballot back I would have voted for SHU's Brian Laing, who has stepped up in a big way for the Pirates. His line in Philadelphia was 19-33; 2-5; 12-13 for 52 points in 2 games. His rebounding was great -- 5-14-19. As for the freshman, I believe Donte Greene won. While Corey Fisher had a tremendous tournament in Orlando, Greene did have the better week overall. It is going to be fun to watch these freshmen.

Oh, and the three reasons I put Cincinnati as #16 instead of George Washington...

  • 1. The Bearcats dropped those two games in the Peggy Cronin Invitational in front of a hometown crowd. At least Rutgers had the good judgement to stage their worst loss in a 100 year old gym in an East Jersey town 20 miles Northeast of New Brunswick in front of 900 witnesses (possibly the only people in New Jersey who knew how to get to the Jersey City Armory).
  • 2. Cincinnati's loss to Bowling Green at home no less, was terrible. Bowling Green beat Belmont (which also beat Cincinnati) but went on to lose to Temple by double digits.
  • 3. George Washington is not a member of the Big East Conference. I checked before I voted.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Post Weekend Walk Around...

Still way too early for sweeping predictions (or radical revisions to earlier predictions), but just about everyone has 5 or so games down against some good (and more than a few not so good) opponents. It might be a good time to take an alphabetical look at some of the conference teams...

Looking back, maybe Cincinnati's season opening loss to Belmont was not as shocking as it seemed at first. My preseason blogger ballot (for The Big East Report had the Bearcats finishing #12. Their 5 point win over Fairfield notwithstanding, I am not convinced (to this point) they will get to New York City for this year's tournament. They are getting scoring from the paint from both John Williamson (who played the #5 last season and has moved over to the #4) and Adam Hrycaniuk, an NCAA Clearing House casualty last season. Deonta Vaughn (sophomore pg) is playing over 90% of the pg minutes and taking about 27% of the Bearcats' FGAs when he is in. He is maintaining a PPWS of about 1.15 right now (good for a primary option on offense). Rashad Bishop (Min% -- 62.5, Shot% -- 18.9, PPWS -- 1.10, eFG -- 51.6) is the only member of their large incoming clas making noise so far.

The marker games for Connecticut so far are their near-death experience at the hands of Morgan State (first game of the season) and their double digit loss to Memphis in the 2K Sports Final as Madison Square Garden. While some have compare the Morgan State game to their scare at the hands of Quinnipiac early last season, Ken Pomeroy over at the Basketball Prospectus appears to give at least part of the credit to Todd Bozeman, the Bear's head coach. The silver lining in their 11 point loss to Memphis is the sustained (offensive) effort from front court mates Hasheem Thabeet and Stanley Robinson. The offense is definitely coming from the back court this season, with Jerome Dyson and AJ Price leading the way, but the Huskies will have to see some points from their frontcourt. Thabeet in particular has provided some offensive (efficient if not prolific) productivity this season, though he is still pretty much a role player in the Husky offense.

The first and second rounds of the Paradise Jam boded well for the Providence Friars. They bested a well coached Temple team and followed it with a convincing win over #18 Arkansas. While the 6 point loss was disappointing, the Friars got back on track over the weekend by pounding Tommy Amaker's Harvard squad 93-70. Sophomore Dwain Williams has done a good job holding down the point guard position for the injured Sharaud Curry. Williams has kept his turnovers under control (about 15% of his possessions), worked to distribute the ball (ARate about 23.2) while still taking shots (Shot% is 22.0) and scoring efficiently (PPWS is 1.10). Head Coach Tim Welsh started sophomore Brian McKenzie in place of Weymini Efejuku in the Miami game and continued with the change for Harvard. It does not appear however, that Welsh has benched Efejuku, but rather is experiementing with 3 (and maybe 4?!) guards. Efejuku has logged 52 minutes in the past two games. Williams, Xavier, McKenzie, Efejuku and freshman sub Marshon Brooks have collectively played 243 minutes in the last two games. That is 101.3% of the time at three positions.

I was not sure what to make of Seton Hall this season. Two overtime wins against low majors (Monmouth & Robert Morris) to start the season, and another close shave (their second 4 point win) against Navy had me wondering how much the Pirates would struggle in the Big East. Well, they took to the road and beat Virginia (projected to finish in the middle of the ACC this season) by 14 in the Palestra, always a tough place to play. The Cavaliers turnover rate (24.0) was not backbreaking, but when combined with an eFG% of 38.5 it meant that very few possessions were converted to points (even after a successful offensive rebound -- Virginia's OR% was 45.5, indicating they rebounded about ½ of their misses...). The Hall's DRtg, 89.9 was their best showing this season. Starting sophomore guard Paul Gause in place of Larry Davis may have been a move to shore up the Pirate's perimeter defense. It worked because Virginia, a team whose 3FGM% is (according to Ken Pomeroy's Seton Hall Scout Page) 42.3, ranked #33 in D1 was held to an FGM% of 34.6 versus the Pirates. Senior Brian Laing is making a strong early bid for Big East POY. His eFG is 54.8, his PPWS is 1.16, all with a Shot% of 24.9. He is getting his shots to go down even with the other team working to defend him.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Preview -- North Carolina State

The Wildcats and Wolfpack winner their respective semifinal games at the Old Spice Classic are slated to face each other in the final. The Wolfpack has come a long way in the past eighteen months. The program was in turmoil in Herb Sendek's last season on Tobacco Road. Sendek's unsolicited departure to the Arizona State job sent shock waves through the NCSU fan-base, triggering yet another (mercifully for Sendek the last...) controversy of the Sendek Years. AD Lee Fowler threw a wide net through the elite of the D1 coaches, and after working very hard for six weeks to secure raises and contract extensions for Tom Brady (LSU), Rick Barnes (Texas), John Calipari (Memphsis -- Calipari got 2 raises during the NCSU coaching search, plus an all-expenses paid tour of the NCSU campus for himself and his staff...), Frank Haith (Miami) and Greg Marshall (Winthrop at the time, now Wichita State), Fowler settled on an NC State alum (sort of, he hadn't actually graduated yet...) Sidney Lowe, a former NBA head coach and career assistant working for Toronto at the time. If there was one positive development in that NCSU coaching search it was that Sidney Lowe finally got his college degree (he could not meet the qualifications without it). Lowe pulled together a staff of NC State program alums and began the job of putting things right in the program. The season was a bit better than most expected (the Wolfpack was picked for last in the ACC, they finished with a 5-11 record) and capped the season with a mini-run in the ACC Tournament & an NIT invitation. More is now expected...

What Others Say...
...Despite defections in wake of Lowe's hire, the team was competitive last season and made a nice ACC tournament run at the end of the year. According to The Basketball Prospectus, "...State brings everyone of note back, except point guard Engin Atsur. And they bring in at least one impact recruit in power forward JJ Hickson. So improvement is all but guaranteed....". Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a A and the bench/depth a A.

Why Everyone Believes...
...Lowe held on to a few of Sendek's incoming recruits (Brandon Costner and NJ 2006 POY Dennis Horner for example) and brought in another very nice forward, JJ Hickson, an MDAA. With Branden Costner & Ben McCauley in place, the Wolfpack has a terrific front court complement to throw at opponents. Lowe's NBA experience has proven to be a useful tool on the recruiting trail. And coupled with Monte Towe's D1 head coaching experience NCSU appears to be well ahead of the curve for recovering. The Wolfpack was ranked #24 in the preseason ESPN/Coaching poll, and #21 in the AP writer's poll.

So Far...
...NCSU brings a 4-1 record into the game. They opened the season with a win over William & Mary (CAA, 0-3, RPI #268), dropped a pre-Old Spice Class warmup against the University of New Orleans (Sun Belt, 2-0, RPI #34) and then headed down to Orlando where they moved past host school Rider (MAAC, 3-2, RPI #305) in the first round and slipped by South Carolina (SEC, 3-2, RPI #198) in the semi-final. The 'Cats and Wolfpack shared no opponents so far this year -- though both have played a CAA team.

North Carolina State By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years NCSU's RPI has stayed in the #50's, spiking at #19 under Herb Sendek in 2003-04, and then slipping to #72 last season. NC State is a lower than average pace team this season (66.4 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's NC State Scout Page which ranks the Wolfpack #242 out of approx. 341 - the current average for pace is 69.6). The table below contains NC State's Four Factors Stats as compiled on their Scout Page on Ken Pomeroy's website. Stats do not reflect their game Friday with South Carolina.

NCSU Offense51.013919.68032.319430.370
NCSU Defense38.11014.533633.316823.333

As the table indicates, North Carolina State is a middling team for scoring/shooting, pretty good (but not great) for valuing the ball and getting to the free throw line. They are mediocre at offensive rebounding. Their shot defense is very good and they keep opponents off the line. That may be troubling for Villanova because the team tends to look for/get about 20% of their points from the free throw line. The Wolfpack are not especially good at defensive rebounding (from the table's OR% column, subtract 100 from 33.3 to get the defensive rebounding percentage). And they do not force turnovers. Their best defensive feature is on-the-shot defense.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Lowe has selected 3 from Gavin Grant (6-8, 208), JJ Hickson (6-9, 242lbs), Brandon Costner (6-9, 238lbs) and Ben McCauley (6-10, 238lbs) to start every game so far. These four have typically played between 50.0% (McCauley) and 77.5% (Costner) of the minutes. Hickson is a scoring machine -- he has a PPWS of 1.52 (very high, he scores and gets to the line) and an eFG% of 75.0 (extremely high) which will come down as opponents devote more resources to stopping him. Lowe has him firmly in the offensive scheme; Hickson takes 30% ("star-level" involvement) when he is on the floor. Grant, Costner and McCauley are also reasonably accurate (eFGs of about 45.0), though McCauley is more a role player in the offense, while Costner and Grant take about 20% (regular/starter-type) shots when they are in. Lowe's deeper rotation includes Dennis Horner (6-8, 220lbs). Coach Wright has started Drummond (c), Cunningham (pf) and Clark (sf) throughout the tournament. All have played well so far, though some would say Drummond has exceeded expectations and Cunningham has had foul trouble in the past two games. Clark quietly recorded his second double-double of the season Friday (before fouling out) against George Mason. A deeper rotation will bring Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena off the bench.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...The Farnold Degand (6-4, 168) and Courtney Fells (6-5, 239) tandem have srarted all four games so far, logging 75.6% and 86.3% of the available time in the process. Sophomore Trevor Ferguson (6-5, 185lbs) and freshman Javier Gonzalez (6-0, 176) have been used to give Degand/Fells in game rests. Though Degand and Fells are resonably accurate (PPWSs of 1.01 & 1.04 respectively), it is clear the back court takes a back seat on offense. Villanova's back court rotation includes Reynolds and Redding (starters so far), with Malcolm Grant and Corey Fisher taking double digit minutes.

Final Thoughts...
...There is a bit of a full circle for this Old Spice Classic. Villanova faced (and overcame) a very good back court in their first game with UCF. George Mason offered a better balance of front and back court complements in the second game. And NC State offers the best front court Villanova has seen this season (possibly the best until the 'Cats start the Big East season...) in this third game. Nova's frontcourt has had problems staying on the floor with GMU's Will Thomas, NC State's frontcourt offers and even bigger challenge. The question is how well their back court will be able to set up their frontcourt for scoring. And how well will the bigger NCSU players keep up with the smaller (faster?) Wildcats. Perimeter shooting is not in the NC State arsenal, which is to Nova's advantage (that's where they have been most vulnerable). The Wolfpack backcourt seems to be tasked with getting ball up the court and into the hands of Grant, Costner or McCauley. While Degand does have 9 assists so far this season, Grant (13) has more, and Costner (at 9) and McCauley (5) are clearly involved, if not with scoring directly, certainly with setting each other up. Interior passing must have been a point of emphasis for Lowe.

I will be interested to see how Drummond, Clark and Cunningham handle this challenge. This game may offer an opportunity to test the ball handling/press breaking skill of the Wolfpack guards. The Villanova staff has a number of press & trap schemes to exploit the careless. The risk is in giving up the easy basket when the press/trap is broken. The Nova Nation has lavished a good deal of attention on the back court (they are very good). This game may well be a good opportunity for the front court players to step forward.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Preview -- George Mason Patriots

The Wildcats and Patriots meet in the second round of the Old Spice Classic. Each won their first round games. Villanova took a 76-68 decision over the Golden Knights of Central Florida, while George Mason beat Kansas State 87 - 77. This is the third meeting for the two teams, Villanova holding a 2-0 edge in the series. They last played in the 1998-99 season opener (for both) at the Pavilion. Nova won by 10 in Jim Larranaga's second season. Each has more experience with the other's conference-mates. Villanova lost to Drexel, a Colonial Athletic Association mate of George Mason's early last season. And GMU bounced Connecticut from the 2006 Elite Eight in a 2 overtime victory that continues to thrill the media (even as it mystifies & infuriates UConn fans). The Giant Killer reputation (and graduations/eligibility exhaustion) did not serve the Patriots well last season as they dropped to 18-15 (9-9 in the CAA) last season. Coach Larranaga brings an upper classmen-led team (4 seniors and a junior should start) to the Old Spice Classic. And they should compete with the best in the CAA this season...

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a A-, the frontcourt a A- and the bench/depth a B. Storming the Court Blog piced George Mason to win the Colonial Athletic Association Conference and return to the Dance this season. Part of the conference preview included this description of GMU:

...remembers the Final Four run, but they forget that two sophomores--Folarin Cambell and Will Thomas--starred on that team. Those two are still there, now seniors, and leading a talented and experienced of mostly juniors and seniors. The Patriots return four of five starters from last year's CAA tournament fianlist. If they can get consistent shooting they are very, very dangerous...
-- CAA Conference Preview, Storming the Court Blog, 10/19/2007

Why Everyone Believes...
...Larranaga returns a squad whose starting lineup is consists of upperclassmen (and occasionally a freshman). Seniors Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell were contributors on the Final Four squad of 2005-06 and will lead the group this season. Other starters have been drawn from a pool of Andre Smith (junior, 6-0, 185lb), Jordan Carter (senior, 6-0, 175lb), John Vaughan (junior, 6-3, 185lb) and Vlad Moldoveanu (freshman, 6-10, 206lb). The rotation goes deeper, as junior Chris Fleming (6-7, 240) and sophomore Louis Birdsong (6-6, 235) have always found a few minutes in each game. Freshman Cam Long (6-4, 177) has also seen the court.

So Far...
...Patriots have wins over Vermont (American East, 1-3, RPI #121), Cleveland State (Horizon, 3-2, RPI #69) and Dayton (A10, 1-1, RPI #31).The 'Cats and Pats have shared no opponents this year, though Drexel, Towson, William and Mary are among the CAA schools Villanova has faced in the past few seasons.

George Mason By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years GMU's RPI has roamed between 15 (2005-06) and #153 (2004-05). It has a high-low pattern, resembling a jagged tooth edge of a saw, that has reflected the maturity of the squad. Last year their rank was #124. Expect it to finish (much?) higher this season. George Mason is a an averaged pace team this season (69.5 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's George Mason Scout Page which ranks the Patriots #160 out of approx. 336 - the current average for pace is 69.7). George Mason's offensive efficiency, going into their Old Spice Classic first round game with Kansas State, is a somewhat flat 93.1 (#231). Given the relatively low level of competition, Pomeroy has regressed that rating down to 81.1 (#309). I am not a big fan of adjusting the numbers this early in the season (2 - 5 games for most teams), depressing the offensive rating certainly suggests the Patriots have some problems on that side of the ball. The biggest problem is shooting. GMU's eFG% is 38.9 (#319); the culprit is their 3 point shooting (18.2%, #331). While the balance of the Patriot's offensive four factors (turnover pct., offensive rebounding and free throw rate) are slightly above average (their free throw rate is actually a strong 35.2 -- the Patriots get to the line once for every 3 FGAs), they are not, by themselves, enough to overcome the shooting slump GMU was in going into the tournament. The Patriots developed a hot hand in the Kansas State game, especially from the 3 point arc where they went 8-17 (47.1%). Points via those long range shots came from Vaughan and Campbell who collectively went 5-10 from beyond the arc. Their defense (at least so far) is providing the stopgap on opponents while the offense searches for answers. Their raw defensive rating, 69.5 is stifling. It is unrealistic to assume they can maintain that level all season long. The Patriots have controlled the defensive boards (22.9, #16) and by not fouling, allowed their opponents opportunities to score via the free throw attempt. Their defense for shots is a bit suspect (50.7, #191).

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...The Patriots will most likely start Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell. Campbell, at 6-4 may seem a bit undersized, so Larranaga will, against larger teams (like Kansas State for example) move Campbell out to the wing and start freshman Vlad Moldoveanu. He has started Moldoveanu against Dayton and K State, and may do so against Villanova. Subs Louis Birdsong and Chris Fleming have had consistent (though small allocations of) minutes through the Kansas State game. Thomas has been the most reliable offensive option for the Patriots so far. With a PPWS of 1.31 he warrants the full attention of Villanova's best front cort defender (Cunningham?). Villanova will start Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark. Coach Wright may also start Casiem Drummond to give the team a "traditional" look. Antonio Pena and Corey Stokes will most likely have some playing time as well. A blowout game (or severe foul trouble) may well bring Dwayne Anderson into take up minutes.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Jordan Carter and John Vaughan will start. If Coach Larranaga wants a smaller look, he may (to start) sit Moldoveanu and start 6-0 Dre Smith to give the Patriots a 3 guard lineup. Villanova has started Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding in all 4 games this year. Given Redding's performance in the UCF game it is a certainty he will start again. Coach Wright will also look for minutes for Malcolm Grant and Corey Fisher. Fisher in particular had a very good game against Central Florida, so the staff may come to rely a bit more on him going forward.

Final Thoughts...
...If both teams revert to form, the game will offer an interesting matchup of defense and offense. Villanova's weak defense versus George Mason's slumping offense. And Villanova's strong offense versus George Mason's strong defense. GMU's offense has worked in fits and starts, while the Wildcats' defense has been uncharacteristically porous. GMU did have a very nice offensive effort against Kansas State, but that may be deceptive. KS Wildcats seems to be less than the sum of their parts. Villanova by contrast, continued to struggle against the player, most likely a wing or guard, who has the hot hand. With Central Florida, that player was Mike O'Donnell. With GMU it could be John Vaughen (took 29% of the available shots when he was on the court versus KState...), Jordan Carter or Campbell. Thankfully GMU's hottest offensive player, Will Thomas, does not shoot 3s. Villanova has partially masked it's shot defense problems by forcing more turnovers and being extremely proficient at grabbing rebounds. Given that GMU has a senior backcourt, the odds of rattling their confidence would seem slight. As for rebounding, Villanova will have some big bodies to throw at the boards (Cassiem Drummond, for example). Thomas and Campbell offer a more mobile option for the Patriot offense. If Moldaoveanu is sitting, Larranaga has decided to go small.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Odd and Ends

A few things from last night's games...

  • Speclation over how Louisville would respond to David Padgett's latest injury centered on a larger role for sophomore Derrick Caracter and career backup center Terrence Farley. Caracter excites the Louisville faithful as no center has recently. He is agressive and gets to the line frequently. In his first start this season (ever?) he scored 8 points on 4-6 shooting, grabbed 5 rebounds (2-3-5) and 2 steals in 18 minutes. He also fouled out. Coach Pitino subbed him with Farley through much of the second half to keep him available. Last season he logged fouls at the rate of 1 per 4.4 minutes, which would have given him about 22 minutes of PT. This season it's about 1 per 4.6 minutes. Farley saw 21 minutes of playing time, the most for him since Louisville faced Pittsburgh in the 2005 Big East Tournament (their first year in the Big East). Padgett was injured that year also.
  • Dominic James's timing could not have been worse. #13 Marquette was facing #10 Duke in the Maui Invitational when James decided to lay an egg. On a night when his eFG hovered around 25.0 James felt the need to take 41.6% of MU's shots when he was on the floor. Overall shooting aside, James posted a 0.64 PPWS, which was well below Marquette's ORtg of 108.7 for this game. His frusturation was evident in the 4 personals he picked up in 27 minutes of play. A win over Duke would have put Marquette front and center for a promotion in the polls next Monday. Marquette has done well when he and McNeal share the shot responsibility more evenly. McNeal's Shot% last night was 16.4, role player-level involvement in the offense.
  • Georgetown fulfilled it's obligation to play Ball State in Muncie. The arrangements were set when Coach Thompson's brother Ronnie was Ball State's HC. Ronnie Thompson's one year tenure at Ball State abruptly ended last summer very badly. And with that, this early season road trip took on a game-within-a-game element. The Hoya Prospectus Blog provides a good by-half breakdown of the game.

A Four Factors look at Villanova and Central Florida. The Golden Knights are Villanova's first round opponent tonight in the Old Spice Classic.

When the 'Cats are on offense:

VU on OffenseeFGRnkTO%RnkOR%RnkFTA%Rnk
Central Florida46.611022.715531.914718.111

Villanova has valued the ball and done a great job getting misses, no doubt the product of playing 3 frontcourt players (Drummond, Cunningham and Clark), rather than 3 guards. Central Florida's lack of fouling may be in part due to the fact that they have won their games to date (no late game fouling to force change of possession). When the Wildcats are on defense:

VU on DefenseeFGRnkTO%RnkOR%RnkFTA%Rnk
Central Florida48.818517.43642.43115.2301

Ahhh, here is where things get interesting. Villanova has done a terrible job of defending the shot, but has compensated by forcing turnovers and getting rebounds. While UCF has not been especially proficient as getting their shots to go, they have taken care of the ball and rebounded their misses well. Those factors may well decide the game. But only if Villanova can defend the shot better.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Preview -- Villanova vs UCF

You would think since the Wildcats are playing the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, Florida (first round of the Old Spice Classic), the Golden Knights would play the host. And the Wildcats could count this as a road game. Not true, the game, played in the Milk House at Walt Disney World counts as a neutral (UCF's home court, the brand-new Convocation Center is about 4 miles away) court, and Rider, the MAAC representative in the tournament is the "official" host...because the MAAC is the "host conference" for the Old Spice Classic. Like a few things in WDW though, separating the illusion from the reality might be difficult. The Wildcats and Golden Knights meet for the first time in the Old Spice Classic Tournment. That's for real. UCF, despite moving up to the Conference USA from the Atlantic Sun Conference has remained a surprisingly competitive team in conference and D1 play. The program is stable, head coach Kirk Speraw has been 14 years at the helm, and the Athletic Department has capitalized on the promotion to a "high mid-major" conference by upgrading the sports facilities, both football and basketball, and launching an aggressive PR campaign, to attract better recruits and expand the fan-base. These guys have a plan.

What Others Say...
Picked to finish in the middle third of CUSA this season, UCF has a history of exceeding expectations. Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B-, the frontcourt a C+ and the bench/depth a C+. Gone are team leaders Josh Peppers (scoring -- 14.3 ppg) and Lavell Payne (rebounding -- 5.3 rpg), but the Knights return most of the players and minutes (66.5%) from a team that went 22-9 (11-5 in conference) last season. "...Speraw doesn't expect the Knights to slip too far with two of the league's op 3-point shooters i senior point guard Mike O'Donnell (.430) and junior shooting guard Jermaine Taylor (.414)..." (Athlon).

Why Everyone Believes...
The ACC raid on the Big East in 2004-05 rippled through a number of eastern conferences. UCF, whose program had become the flagship for the Atlantic Sun Conference (with an RPI of #108 in 2004-05) was invited to join the CUSA when seven of CUSA's members moved on to other conferences. After a surprisingly strong 5th place finish in their inaugural season, the Golden Knights shocked CUSA by running to a 2nd place regular season finish last year. The Athletic Department has just finished a 10,000 seat on campus facility for basketball and a larger, on-campus stadium for the football team. Heady times for the Orlando school.

So Far...
UCF has played 2 games so far, hosting mid-major powerhouse Nevada (WAC, 0-1, RPI #46) and Norfolk State (MEAC, 0-2, RPI #145) at their new facility. And the Golden Knights are 2-0 so far, beating the Wolf Pack by 3 (63-60) and Norfolk State by 14 (78-64). though the season is still young, their current RPI is an eyecatching #13 to Villanova's #43.

Central Florida By the Numbers...
UCF's RPI reflects the change in status over the past 3 - 4 years. The Golden Knights had an RPI of #108 in 2004-05, their last season in the Atlantic Sun Conference (actually down from #68 in 2003-04). They won the conference title and advanced to NCAAs, losing in the first round (both in 2003-94 & 2004-05). As newbies in CUSA their RPI (reflected in their 12-15 record, down from 21-8 the year before) took a step back to #190. They rebounded to #119 in 2006-07. Central Florida was a slightly lower than average pace team last season (64.3 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Central Florida Scout Page which ranked the Golden Knights #265 out of approx. 336 - the average pace last season was 69.4). UCF's field goal efficiency (eFG) was an excellent 54.0 (#29) while their defense for shots nearly kept pace (47.4, #65). The Knights return only 69.2% of their playing minutes from last season however, and the departed Peppers & Payne owned just over 50% of the possessions and 52% of the shots when they were on the floor together.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Kenrick Zondervan (c-pf) and wing Jermaine Taylor (sg-sf) anchor a rotation that includes Stanley Billings (c), Andre Thornton (sophomore pf) and Jean-Michel Yotio (freshman pf). Villanova's rotation will match Dante Cunningham or Drummond against Zondervan and Shane Clark against Taylor. Drummond received a 26 minute tune-up against Bucknell, around 13 minutes per half. Allocating a double digit helping of playing time, whether in relief of Cunningham or beside him, may become a trend for Drummond and the 'Cats. Stokes and Pena saw their court time diminish from the Stony Brook to Bucknell, reflecting the competitiveness of the opponents, and possibly the progress each has made to master his position and role on the team. Clark, and anyone else draws Taylor, will face a perimeter player who jacks 3s very consistently. He was not hitting against Nevada, but one of these days...

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Coach Speraw will most likely start O'Donnell & Dave Noel. Upperclassmen Chip Cartwright and Mike Battle will probably split time with occasional appearances by the deeper bench (freshmen Taylor Young & Chris Baez). In 2006-07 Noel and O'Donnell scored efficiently in an offense that worked to set up front court players Josh Peppers (departed), Lavell Payne (departed) and sf/sg Jermaine Taylor. This season more responsibility for point production will go to O'Donnell & Noel, who will draw that extra attention even as they try to maintain their scoring efficiencies. It should be a challenge. Coach Wright used a rotation that includes Scottie Reynolds (starter), Reggie Redding, Malcolm Grant and Corey Stokes in the Stony Brook game. He worked Corey Fisher briefly in the Bucknell game, reducing Stoke's minutes sharply while working the veterans Redding and Reynolds for 90% of the game in a two pronged effort (Redding to shut down Bucknell's scorer on defense, Reynolds to put points on the score board offensively) to turn that game around. Redding will most likely draw the hot shooter. How effectively Fisher, Grant and Stokes can fit into the defense may well determine how many minutes each gets.

Final Thoughts
This game will throw yet another experienced back court at the young Wildcats, possibly the most accomplished backcourt the 'Cats have seen yet. Against Nevada Coach Speraw gave his four guards and wingman Jermaine Taylor > 25 minutes apiece. The starters (Taylor, O'Donnell & Noel) received more than 30 minutes apiece (sound familiar Wildcat fans?). Chip Cartwright (game high 6), Noel & Taylor dished out 11 of the Golden Knights' 14 assists and the backcourt plus Taylor (Noel had the game high of 9) grabbed 26 of the Golden Knight's 40 rebounds in that same game. Given O'Donnell and Noel's scoring efficiency, the challenge for the young back court crew may well be more defensive than offensive. Three point/perimater defense, not a traditionally strong area for the Wildcats, will be needed to shut down a team that will look and feel a lot like Villanova's team. If athleticism and talent favor the 'Cats (by no means a given...), location and experience favor the Golden Knights. The Milk House is neutral in name only. Locals, not migrating home for the Thanksgiving Break can be counted on to turn out (assuming there is no football that weekend...).

Coach Wright jettisoned the larger rotation with Nova's uncomfortably small margin of victory over Bucknell. Against Stony Brook the staff ran 11 players through the rotation, giving double digit minutes to 8 of them. Against the sharp shooting Bison the staff ran 10 players total, giving only 6 double digit minutes. Four of the five starters logged > 30 minutes apiece. The Old Spice Classic has the Wildcats playing 3 games in 4 days. The player management challenge will require that the staff win this game but not exhaust the nucleus in the process. There will be, win or lose, 2 more games to play before the long weekend is over. Nail biter or blowout, I will be curious to see who (and when) the staff brings in first, second and third. How deep into the bench the staff goes, and for how long those players are given court time should give some insight into the staff's thinking about the team members. The #6 and #7 men will probably compete (strongly) for starting spots for the balance of the season. How quickly those first substitutions are made will most likely be as much circumstance as staff's habits. Irrespective of large/small lead/deficit, putting some of the bench on the floor should help to sort out playing time issues for later in the season.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bucknell Post Game: Home Cookin'

While Villanova did defeat the Bucknell Bison, there was little joy in the Nova Nation today as stories of the snafus with the ticket lottery system mingled with critiques of the player rotation and game effort. The game seemed to follow the track of most until the first rotation of players entered. The anticipated scoring push sputtered. Every modest run was answered with a Bucknell 3 pointer, most often delivered by Bison pg John Griffin (and for those listening via the Bucknell radio, an increasingly annoying "BINGO!!!"). There has been a fair amount of opinion and some good observations about the problems in the first half, but I decided to take a leaf from the blogger over at Hoya Prospectus and break the box score down by halves to determine the effect (statistically and in performance) of the half-time adjustments. Dante Cunningham was benched with his second foul at about the 12:00 minute mark of the first half and the 'Cats responded by keeping Casiem Drummond in with a larger time slice allocated to Grant, Stokes, Pena and Fisher. Dwayne Anderson made a 2 minute appearance as well. Cunningham and Reggie Redding played virtually the entire second half, with less time allocated to Pena, Fisher and Stokes. Breaking down the box score...


 Offense Defense

The offensive and defensive efficiencies (the "Rating" row) showed dramatic improvement after the halftime break. While the offensive rating is especially eye catching, the defensive side features an interesting paradox. Bucknell's field goal efficiency improved, even as their offensive rating (Villanova's defensive rating...) regressed. The Bison continued to lose possessions at a high rate (25.5) and had 4.5% of their shots blocked, but they also lost control of their offensive boards. Bucknell was nearly even with Villanova on offensive boards in the first half (both teams' defensive rebounding percentage was mediocre). But Villanova took control of Bucknell's glass in the second half. The Bison had 2 rebounds under their own glass. Hard to get the put backs if you don't get the rebounds.

Improvements on the offensive side were dramatic and across the board. Among the four factors (see side margin for links to detailed descriptions of possession-based stats and Dean Oliver's four factors on offense and defense) slashing their turnover rate (TORate) by nearly ½ and improving their offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) and effective field goal percentage (eFG%) by 24.6 and 12.7 respectively helped to push their offensive rating to 145+. But tripling their FTRate (fta/fga) was a significant help for putting points on the board. The 'Cats got to the free throw line 20 times in the second half, nearly 3 times for every 4 field goal attempts (27) in the half. They converted 13 of those 20 FTAs. Not quite the margin of the second half turnaround, but clearly a major element. 22.9% of Villanova's points came at the free throw line, a contribution consistent with last year's efforts.

Dante Cunningham played for only 7 minutes in the first half (and all 20 in the second half). While it appears that those additional minutes went to Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena, and Malcolm Grant, the reality is that Drummond and Redding covered those minutes. Fisher and Pena had about 5 minutes each in the first half and less than a minute each in the second half. Grant had 12 minutes in the first half and 7 in the second half. The key is that Drummond and Redding continued to play large minutes in the second half with Cunningham. Minutes that may have gone to Fisher, Grant, Pena and Stokes were devoted to applying the defense necessary to limit/offset the Bison field goal accuracy. Reynolds and Redding played 95% of the available minutes (38 minutes apiece), an unusual move, but understandable given the close score throughout the game and the need for consistent application of the offense and defense. Drummond played a total of 26 minutes (12 and 14 per half...), probably the most minutes he has seen in his career at Villanova.

The latest Pomeroy Offensive Efficiencies and Defensive Efficiencies rank Villanova at #2 and #233 (raw) respectively (scroll down to the Big East Conference members). Offense is not the problem. This defensive ranking is the Wildcat's worst ever.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wonking the Big East

For the past month I usually stop what I am doing Monday through Friday to take a quick trip to the Basketball Prospectus site. They normally don't post before 2:00pm (eastern time). I have come away disappointed more than a few times, but only because no one from their roster of writers has posted that day. It has become the site for indepth statistical analysis for all of D1 basketball. NBA fans will not be disappointed either as Kevin Pelton, Bradford Doolittle, Maury Brown, Will Carroll and Brad Wochomurka have contributed/collaborated on articles about the league.

Pomeroy, Gasaway and occasional contributors Caleb Peiffer and John Perrotto have been working through the conferences. John Gasaway finished his 3 part preview of the Big East on Friday. I was not disappointed. The 3 parts included:

  • An Overview which takes a look at the won-lost records from last year, each teams Pythagorean Winning percentage and percentage of returning playing time to (roughly) predict a record for each team. I posted a brief note about the Overview last week.
  • Part 1 looks at the first eight (by alphabet) schools Cincinnati through Pittsburgh.
  • Part 2 looks at the last eight schools, Providence through West Virginia. Maybe it is my biases showing through, but I thought Gasaway's preview of Villanova was especially thorough. Using Connecticut as a foil he explored how the Wildcat's and Husky's seasons turned out so differently, even though they had similar weaknesses on offense. He mentioned each of the incoming players, both true freshmen and the red shirts from last season. While his projection from the overview suggests the 'Cats will finish in a three way tie (with Notre Dame & Pittsburgh) for fourth place, I thought the preview was largely positive.

If you like your basketball with a helping of stats you should stop by their site. Pomeroy & Gasaway (and Joe Sheehan, founder of baseball prospectus and underwriter for the basketball prospectus) indicated the site would initially be free (and they kept their word...), but I suspect that will not be true much beyond the current season.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Preview -- Villanova vs Bucknell

The Wildcats and Bison agreed to postpone their contract game from last season to this season. This is the earliest the teams have scheduled their games with each other so far. And given the Giant Killer reputation the Bison have cultivated over the past 3 - 4 seasons, the advantage may well go to the Bison. Under head coach Pat Flannery Bucknell has (along with Ralph Willard's Holy Cross Crusaders) become a competitive and well respected program in the otherwise decidedly mid-major Patriot League. The Bison earned at-large bids to the NCAAs in the 2005 & 2006 seasons, winning their first round games both years (Syracuse and Kansas were the power conference victims). With the graduation of three time All Patriot League center Chris McNaughton and the mid summer injury to 6-8 senior Darren Mastropaolo (most likely a red shirt this season), the Bison have only the memories of those glory years to guide them...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B+, the frontcourt a C+ and the bench/depth a B. The Bison are projected (by Blue Ribbon, Athlon & Lindy's) to finish second to Holy Cross in the Patrior League. "... loses three starters from a team that lost only one conference game all season. The backcourt will be the focal point for the Bison. John Griffin, an all-conference combo guard, leads the way. He can shoot the three and also get to the basket..." -- March Madness All Season Blog.

Why Everyone Believes...
...While the nucleus of the 2004-06 teams have graduated many of the underclassmen have moved into the starter roles. Senior pg John Griffen will have juniors Justin Castleberry and Jason Vegotsky and sophomore Stephan Tyree to play off in the backcourt, while junior backup Josh Linthicum will step into Chris McNaughton's shoes in the frontcourt. He will be joined by sophomore Patrick Behan and freshmen Todd O'Brien, a well regarded 6-11 big man out of New Holland, Pa. "Head Coach Pat Flannery...believes that the Bison have of talent remaining to challenge for another (Patriot) league title..." (Athlon).

So Far...
The 'Cats enter this game sporting a 1-0 record - their most recent effort, the season opener at home against Stony Brook brought a 22 point victory. Bucknell opened with a 55-52 win against Albany (like the Stony Brook Seawolves, a member of American East Conference) and then hit the road for a 14 point win against Towson State, 71-57.

Bucknell By the Numbers...
Over the past 3 years BU has maintained a top #100 rank in the RPI (2005 - #55. 2006 - #38, 2007 - #79). Bucknell is a nearly average pace team this season (69.2 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Bucknell Scout Page which ranks the Bison #172 out of approx. 312 - the current average for pace is 70.0). Last season, BU's field goal efficiency (eFG) was a very strong 53.5 (#43) while their defense for shots was a good (but not as strong) 48.3, #99. The Bison's 2007 defensive rating 97.6 (adjusted), good for a #106 overall D1 ranking. The key stat/skill was their ability to limit their opponent's offensive rebounding to 25.4% (the Bison had a defensive rebounding percentage of 74/6%), #1 in D1 according to Pomeroy. Brown, McNaughton and Mastropaolo were all recognized Top 500 rebounders in that category. None are available this season.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
Bucknell's rotation will include Josh Lithicum (6-11), Patrick Behan (6-8) and Todd O'Brien (6-11) and then Coach Flannery has to slide guards over. Lithicum has played 130 minutes in the past two seasons as backup to Chris McNaughton. Behan, who logged 18.6% of the available frontcourt minutes last year as backup to Mastropaolo and Brown will step into the starting job. Flannery has a number of guard/wings (Rob Thomas, 6-3, Jason Vegotsky, 6-2,Stephen Tyree, 6-3, G.W. Boon, 6-4 and Zach Evans, 6-5) in the 6-2 to 6-5 range, who will no doubt draw time in a 3 guard scheme. Someone may have to slide over to cover Behan on occasion, which would make the Bison very small. Villanova will counter with a rotation that most likely will include some combination of Dante Cunningham, Shane Clark, Casiem Drummond, Antonio Pen, and Andrew Ott. Given the Bison are undermanned, Coach Wright may decide to run a large rotation to wear their Bison counterparts down a bit. Junior wingman Dwayne Anderson (6-6) and freshman Corey Stokes (6-5) may see time with the mismatches available.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
The Bison offense will shift even more dramatically to the back court this season as this part of the team has the larger measure of talent and experience going into the season. Coach Flannery will rotate John Griffin (6-0, pg/sg captain), Justin Castleberry (6-1), Jason Vegotsky (6-2), Stephen Tyree (6-3) and Darryl Shazier (6-0) through the back court. Villanova will counter with Scottie Reynolds (sophomore, 6-2), Reggie Redding (sophomore, 6-5), Corey Fisher (freshman, 6-1) and Malcolm Grant (freshman, 6-1).

Final Thoughts...
...the Wildcats may well spend the first 7 minutes of this game thinking they are looking at themselves in the mirror...a smaller, slightly less quick & athletic version of themselves to be sure. Villanova should be able to dominate the front court pretty quickly. Bucknell however has some good outside shooting (Vegotsky & Castleberry both, per Pomeroy's Bucknell Scout Page, had eFGs >50.0 and 3FGM% >= 40.0%), the 'Cats will have to counter with good perimeter defense, not a strong point of their defense last year (or this season to date). If Bucknell's wing players get their shots off (and are accurate) the game could be closer than anticipated (is the outcome in doubt?...not likely, but the 3 point shot has become the equalizer in D1 ball...).

Coach Wright used an 11 man rotation versus Stony Brook, but 3 of those players saw 10 minutes between them. The staff will have to find minutes for Corey Fisher, held out in the opener but is, according to Let's Go Nova expected to play. If Villanova can get the game under control early, the staff may continue to experiment with different lineup combinations in preparation for the Old Spice Classic (and the rest of the season). Possibly Drummond and Pena will see (relatively) more minutes in that case. While getting the far end of the bench some playing time has been traditionally valued by the staff and appears to be a priority in the early season games, expect that if the game remains competitive throughout, the staff will shorten the rotation to the group they anticipate will form the nucleus this season.

The Young Guns

Syracuse began the Flynn-Greene Era with 2 close wins at home in the Carrier Dome. Two very close wins at home. With under 40% of his playing time returning this season (3 starters included), Coach Boeheim's decision to begin this season with a tournament seemed a little daring. The Preseason NIT, unlike a number of early season tournaments, whose promoters appear to consult rather closely with the host of each regional site on opponent selection, timing of the games and other issues, handed Syracuse two rather competitive opponents. Understand, Siena of the MAAC and St. Joseph's(PA) of the A10 are not going to break into any regular season Top 25 polls and will most likely finish with RPIs in the #70 - #110 range, but both will most likely see a post season beyond their respective conference tournaments. The Siena Saints are favored to win the MAAC while St. Joseph's (PA) is projected to finish with enough wins to draw consideration for at least the three lettered tournament. Given the relative youth of the Syracuse team a close call (or two close calls...) would not seem out of place, especially considering the opponents. But winning two games by a total of 11 points, the last on literally a game ending jumper, seemed too close for comfort. So who did Coach Boeheim start and who did he include in the rotation for these games?

The Starters
Eric Devendorf27796.31123311.16
Jonny Flynn27290.01119331.58
Donte Greene27695.01124321.19
Paul Harris27391.31123321.10
Arinze Onuaku26378.81116291.34
The Bench
Rick Jackson21923.857101.43
Scoop Jardine278.80200.00
Kristof Ongenaet2911.31320.67
Josh Wright145.00000.00

That he started 2 freshmen, Flynn and Greene, is hardly a surprise. They were heavily promoted going in, and have not disappointed. But combined with red shirt sophomore Arinze Onuaku, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf, the Orange starting five may easily be the least experienced (from a collegiate perspective) of any starting five in the conference. Only Devendorf has more than one year as a starter. He is the only one who has played more than one season of college ball too. Between them Onuaku and Harris have 2 starts over the past 2 seasons. Onuaku took a redshirt last season after logging 17.2% of the available minutes as a freshman. While Onuaku rehabbed a knee last season, Paul Harris entered the program and played 54.1% of the available minutes. Devendorf is the grownup in this group. The same trend holds true for the Orange substitutions. Boeheim has used 9 players over the two game stint, 8 having appeared in both games. There is a huge playing time gap between the 5th (Onuaku) and the 6th man (Rick Jackson).

Almost as surprising as the shallow rotation is the allocation of minutes within the rotation. The starting five have logged at least 78.8% of the minutes distributed to the squad, with 4 of the 5 logging in excess of 90% of the available minutes. The sixth man in (by most accounts that would be Rick Jackson), gets less than ¼ of the available time (Min%) while he gets slightly less than 1/3 of the minutes allocated to the 5th starter (Onuaku). Easier competition is in store after the NIT championship round at MSG. The starters may well get some downtime before starting the Big East portion of their schedule. Continuing to play 90% of the available minutes going forward will take a huge toll on the entire freshmen contingent.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pace in Pittsburgh

When I calculated the pace for the Pittsburgh-Houston Baptist game I did a double take. Over 82.7 possessions -- was this an exhibition game? I tracked the two following games and observed that the pace is decelerating (though the second game was a -- for the Panthers anyway -- scorching 68.9 possessions). My linear regression equation on the game pace has determined that at some point in the Pitt-Ducquesne game on 12/05 those teams will approach the D1 equivalent of a pace event horizon. With a calculated pace of just below 2 possessions for each team, that would mean rounded, that the Dukes and Panthers would have one possession apiece per half. I am not sure they could do that even on purpose, though it does remind me of a few pre-shot clock games in the Big 5. When Sam Young proclaimed a new, high paced era in Pittsburgh basketball after the North Carolina A&T win, I was skeptical.

Last season, Pitt's raw pace (per Ken Pomeroy) started out around 65.2 (high -- see the chart above) it quickly fell into the 63.0 range and dipped as low as 62.7 before coming to rest at 62.9 at season's end. Consider that from January 7 to the end of the season Pitt's raw pace migrated in a range just below 64 down to 62.7 That's about 1 possession over 22 games (and 12 weeks)...not much movement at all. The "new look" Panthers look a lot like the "old look" Panthers -- a big center (Troutman, Demetris & Gray, Blair & Diggs), mobile Euro-style 4s (DeGroat & Kendall, Young, Brown) lots of interchangable wings and off guards (McCarroll, Graves, Ramon, Benjamin, Cook...) and heady point guards (Knight, Krauser, Fields, Wanamaker?). These Howland and Dixon teams assume personality of the city itself, substantial, steady and methodical, plow straight forward, right over you if necessary...maybe even predictable and plodding at times. So the probability that the Panthers will not settle into a pace in the 62.5-64.0 range are about as good as a black hole developing over the city of Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Basketball Prospectus Previews the Big East.

The Basketball Prospectus (operated by Ken Pomeroy & John Gasaway) posted their Overview of the Big East yesterday (follow the link). They have posted their previews of the power conferences in three parts: the first is an overview that includes the Pythagorean winning percentage and the projected record (and finish) for the coming season. The second and third parts focus on specific teams. Gasaway does the honors for the conference, so the Overview is written in the irreverent style he used when writing his The Big Ten Wonk Blog.

Only a few surprises...Notre Dame is projected as the #4 team. Villanova is projected to win 2 additional games this season. Syracuse is projected to finish at 10-8 -- the same number of wins, but two additional losses over last season (ahhhh youth). Unlike the bloggers poll last week, the Basketball Prospectus projects South Florida as the #16 team. Rutgers three wins in three days has me wondering...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Point of Emphasis?

I believe Andy Katz was at the Connecticut - Morgan State game on Wednesday night, because he devoted a large portion of Thursday's entry, "Full tourney may aid bubble teams", to some of the fine grain details of the game. I'm not going to wring my hands over the Huskies' near death experience at the hands of Todd Bozeman's Golden Bears, Jim Calhoun has a (still) young squad that continues to climb the steep side of the learning curve. They will get better. Katz penned an aside in his Final Nuggets section that caught my eye:

I saw Calhoun on the court quite often Wednesday night. He did get a few push back hand signals from the officials but never got a technical for the new rules dealing with the coaching box. You could argue these were inadvertent since Calhoun, like many other coaches, tends to wander. Still, when queried by an official about the use of profanity, Calhoun said he told the official that when you go to a boxing match, you expect to see blood. He added that someone who uses profanity probably doesn't have an expansive vocabulary. And then he took a shot at himself, and said he didn't obviously have one.
- Katz, 11/08/07

I thought the interaction between Coach Calhoun & those game officials (the crew, according to the ESPN box score included Alan Spainhour, Gary Maxwell & Freddie Williams) was quite considerate, but according to the new protocol, completely unwarranted. The officials are not supposed to warn first, the technical, according to Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese (from this NYT Big East Media Day article, "Big East Coaches Are Told to Behave Themselves") is supposed to be automatic. Coach steps out, coach gets a T. In a very unscientific poll over at Villanova's (Rivals) message board Big East fans indicated Coach Calhoun was second most likely (after Seton Hall's Bobby Gonzalez) of the Big East Coaching Collegium, to draw the most technicals this season. Two games (I checked last night's box, Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson drew Ts, I assume from hanging on the rim...) and no technicals (but a few brush backs...), I wondered if anyone was getting called, so I decided to check the boxes from all of the games this week.

If the 14 games played Monday through last night are any indication, it is business as usual in D1 basketball. Or else the coaches have become miraculously well behaved in the off season. There have been six technicals called in the 14 games, curiously 4 of them in 2 games (both played in Storrs Regional). Maybe Sean Hull and Brian Dorsey are the only referees who read their mail (or the New York Times...). They worked in the Storrs crew(s) that handed out 2 technicals to the Husky players mentioned earlier and another 2 Ts to those notorious D1 bad boys, the Fighting Scots of Ohio Valley University (oh wait, OVU is a DII school...). Those 4 points off of technicals provided the Bulls of Buffalo University with more than ½ of their margin of victory over the Fighting Scots. Of the other technicals, 1 was given to the Denver Pioneer coach in their game with East Central (Oklahoma?). Denver squeaked by with a 76 - 75 win. And the last technical was assessed to a Kentucky Wildcat, Ramel Bradley, in their opener against Central Arkansas. Wrong team member, wrong game (Coach Gillispie...when your team is being pantsed in your own house in front of 19,000+ fans, it's ok to throw a chair, meltdown in front of an official, or give any public demonstration that you object to how things are going...).

Like the flurry of upsets (exhibition and the ones that count...), it is too early to draw conclusions about this year's Point of Emphasis. I suspect game tapes will be reviewed and phone calls made. And next week may well bring a spike in the number of technicals called on the TEAM/BENCH. Or not. I am interested to see how this will unfold going forward, because unlike The Point of Emphasis last season, (palming the ball & other dribbling techniques which give advantage to the ball handler), this one involves how people who have worked with each other going back (in many cases) decades, will interact this year and in the years after The Point of Emphasis changes. Palming point guards will go to the league in a year or two and be able to palm again. D1 coaches and those zebra crews will have to work together even after the NCAA officials decide to emphasize something else.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Preview -- Villanova vs Stony Brook

The Stony Brook Seawolves are Villanova's opening day mid-major, as they complete the third year of a home-n-away (n-home) contract. The Wildcats will host the Seawolves at the Pavilion this year. Maybe if Villanova's fans resolve the lingering question about the Stony Brook mascot ("What is a Seawolf anyway?") the Wildcats will be able to move on...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a C and the bench/depth a B. Blue Ribbon, Lindy's and Athlon project Stony Brook as a middling finisher in the American East Conference. "...The Seawolves will force a quicker pace and have much better outside shooting, giving them a chance to get to .500 in the conference..." (Lindy's). The American East coaches picked Stony Brook to finish 7th in the 9 member conference.

Why Everyone Believes...
...Stony Brook returns senior point guard Mitchell Beauford and (5th year) senior guard Ricky Lucas (who, like Scottie Reynolds, hails from Herndon, VA), the two offensive mainstays from last season's club. Each played more than 70% of the minutes at their positions, and together they controlled 55.7% of the team's possessions and took 61.1% of the shots when they were on the floor. Having invested a year in developing these two, along with sophomore guard Eddie Castellanos and senior center Emanuel Neto, head coach Steve Pikiell may well believe this is the payoff year. He has brought in transfers and JUCOs to address some of the weaknesses exposed last year -- 3 point shooter Michael Tyree, for example, and Nick Carter, a 6-1 point guard transfer (should Beauford prove more useful as a 6th man).

So Far...
The 'Cats enter this game coming off a 5-0 exhibition game run that goes back to September. Their most recent effort against Bloomsburg State produced a 47 point victory. Shane Clark and Corey Fisher were DNP. Tune-ups, if any for the Seawolves, were closed scrimmages as Stony Brook did not play any exhibitions.

Stony Brook By the Numbers...
Stony Brook is a member of the American East Conference, whose conference RPI rank has ranged from the high teens to the mid-twenties (they were ranked #20 last season). The top AE teams typically have RPIs in the 50 - 100 range; the lowest ranked teams will range from 250 - 300+. Stony Brook has finished at the bottom of the AE conference two years running (showing an RPI of #280 last season) with a record of 9-20. Stony Brook was a slighty lower than average pace team last season (65.3 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Stony Brook Scout Page which ranks the Seawolves #221 out of approx. 336 - the current average for pace is 67.5). The Seawolves played decently enough on defense (again from Ken Pomeroy's Scout Page...) -- 104.2 adjusted (#190), but had a terrible time producing points -- offensive efficiency adjusted was 88.9 (#312 out of 336). Stony Brook's field goal efficiency (eFG) was an anemic 43.6 (#324), though their defense for shots was a bit better (50.8, #205). While they definitely had problems hitting 3s (0.311 -- #292), the real weakness for the Seawolves was their 2 point shooting percentage (0.426 -- #326).

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
Stony Brooks' rotation of Emmanual Neto (6-9 center 4.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Rio Pitts (6-7 sophomore forward, 1.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg), Demetrius Young (6-6 forward, transfer) and Andrew Goba (6-9 junior forward, 0.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg) will match up against Villanova's Dante Cunningham (6-8 junior pf/c, 8.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Shane Clark (6-7 junior sf/pf, 6.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Antonio Pena (6-8 redshirt freshman), Casiem Drummond (6-10 sophomore center, 1.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg) and Andrew Ott (6-10 redshirt freshman). If the staff is comfortable with Dante's progress, Drum, Pena and Ott may see more minutes. If Stony Brook runs an up tempo game Shane may get a lot of minutes (and stats). Cunningham and Pena have provided the frontcourt scoring so far, though Drummond, not prolific, has been efficient as another option. Drummond had a very good game against Bloomsburg in the Wildcats last exhibition outing.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
Stony Brook's rotation combines the very experienced duo of Ricky Lucas (redshirt senior 15.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Mitchell Beauford (redshirt senior 12.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and returning sophomore Eddie Castellanos (3.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg) with well regarded JUCOs Nick Carter (Suffolk Community College) and Michael Tyree (Seward Community College). Competing to join the mix will be (last year's) academic casualty Chris Martin, a 6-1 pg from Christ the King in Queens. Villanova will play Scottie Reynolds, BE ROY last year with Reggie Redding and freshmen Corey Fisher (freshman, NJ 2007 POY[Note: Fisher was held out of the Bloomsburg exhibition game due to tendinitis & may be held out of the Stony Brook game as well]), Corey Stokes (freshman, St. Benedict's, 2007 MDAA) and Malcolm Grant (freshman, 2006 NYC PSAL POY). This may provide an interesting contrast of experience (SBU) versus youth and athleticism (Nova). Reynolds, as expected, has been Villanova's leading scorer during their five game exhibition run. Expect that to continue throughout the year. Corey Stokes has emerged as the second scoring option, with Grant providing a third scoring option among the guards.

Last thoughts...
Last year Villanova's senior-led squad lit up the Seawolves 72-44, in their Long Island gym. Against the Canadian competition and Bloomsburg, Coach Wright appeared to experiment with the lineups. The Philadelphia Inquirer's recent article, "Villanova's lineup still a work in progress" suggests the staff (ie Coach Jay Wright) has not yet fixed on a specific rotation. The possibilities offered by the 5 entering players (3 true freshmen and 2 redshirt freshmen), coupled with the comparatively young returning nucleus (4 juniors, 2 starters; 3 sophomores, 1 - 2 starters) provide the staff with lineup combinations that could emphasize height or speed, a three guard scheme or a very traditional scheme, a standard 4-out 1-in motion or the pro-style isolations favored by the Foye/Ray/Lowry teams of 2004-06. The game may be closer than anticipated if...

  • The staff employs a very large rotation (more than 9 players for example -- last year versus Stony Brook the staff used 12 players total, giving 10 players double digit minutes), this game may well be closer than anticipated.
  • Stony Brook wing players get their shots off (and they are accurate). Stony Brook promises to finally put some good outside shooting on the court (Carter in particular, but also Tyree & Martin), so the 'Cats may be challenged to counter with better perimeter defense than they had last season.
  • Stony Brook's maturity and D1 experience trumps Villanova' youth and athleticism.

I expect Villanova to dominate in the frontcourt and backcourt, the question will be "How big a margin"? If the game becomes more competitive than last year's matchup, the staff may tip their hand by giving disproportionate minutes to those 6 - 8 players who have performed best in practice so far.