Monday, December 31, 2007

The Big East - A10 Challenge: Rhode Rage?

Dan Hanner, Georgetown graduate and resident of Minnesota authors the Yet Another Basketball Blog, a terrific source for information and analysis on D1 basketball. His December 14 post, "Early Season Cheat Sheet", takes stock of the 2007-08 season so far (he "Best Comeback" so Villanova for the LSU game). Among the areas he highlights is the BCS - nonBCS matchups, and how they have played out to that point. While reading the section Mid Major Wins to Brag About, I could not help but notice the number of A10 - Big East games the A10 has taken this season. It reminded me of a post I wanted to develop about the large number of games the teams from the two conferences play against each other. Many, like Philadelphia's Big 5 series, which includes 3 A10 teams -- La Salle, St. Joseph's(PA) and Temple -- and Villanova from the Big East, are annual affairs whose histories stretch back decades (if not a century). While Hanner's list identified the A10 wins, it did not include all of the games teams from the two conferences have played to date. A complete list would include:

12/12 Cincinnati 59 Xavier 64 (R, -5)
12/23 DePaul 93 La Salle 88 (N, +5)
12/08 Louisville 65 Dayton 70 (H, -5)
11/11 Pittsburgh 69 St. Louis 58 (H, +11)
12/05 Pittsburgh 73 Duquesne 68 (A, +5)
12/29 Pittsburgh 55 Dayton 80 (A -25!)
11/15 Providence 66 Temple 64 (N, +2)
12/04 Providence 60 Rhode Island 77 (A, -17)
11/16 South Florida 67 Rhode Island 74 (H, -7)
11/13 Syracuse 72 St. Joseph's (PA) 69 (H, +3)
11/16 Syracuse 80 Fordham 63 (H, +17)
11/28 Syracuse 100 Massachusetts 107 (H, -7)
12/08 Syracuse 89 Rhode Island 91 (H, -2)
12/09 Villanova 101 Temple 93 (A, +8)
12/29 Villanova 71 La Salle 58 (H +13)
12/08 West Virginia 92 Duquesne 68 (H +24)

Which puts this "challenge" at 9-7 Big East. Individual records:

South Florida01
West Virginia10

The Rhode Island Rams and Dayton Flyers are this year's giant killers, while the Big 5 contingent appears to be really struggling (currently 0-5). As for the traditional rivalries, Pittsburgh is the dominant team in Western Pennsylvania while Villanova would take their 3rd straight Big 5 title should they defeat St. Joseph's(PA) in February. Should Georgetown beat the "other Rams" (Fordham) today (the Hoyas are well ahead in the second half), the Big East is guaranteed to maintain the upper hand this season. [Note -- the Hoyas did defeat the Rams 82-55, +27] The complete record for the A10 teams:

La Salle02
Rhode Island30
St. Louis01
St. Joseph's(PA)01

Still to play...
12/31 Georgetown -- Fordham (H)
02/04 Villanova -- St. Joseph's(PA) (A)

Post Game: La Salle

As usual, both Let's Go Nova and I Bleed Blue and White provide good narratives and descriptions of the game and players, so I will just look over the box score and point out one or two things. The numbers by half:

OpponentLa Salle 
Offense Defense
FirstSecondTotal FirstSecondTotal

The offensive collapse between the first and second half is obvious (and disappointing). Is it possible the team lost interest? Or did Dr. G make the necessary adjustments? The jump in the assist (and FTRate), coupled with much better rebounding from the Explorers, suggest that Dr. Giannini made half-time adjustments and the 'Cats had some difficulty responding to them. Nevertheless, Villanova's half-to-half defensive effort was very much in evidence in the stats. La Salle's second half eFG% declined from their first half eFG%. Villanova was able to maintain the same level of turnovers while keeping the Explorers off the line. Aside from rebounding the 'Cats appear to have maintained their defensive pressure over the course of the game. I would have been happy with an 84.0 defensive rating for the entire game (Villanova has typically been in the 95-100 range so far this season), but to rachet La Salle down to 75.0 is very encouraging. Observers have suggested that La Salle missed open looks, but the TO% and FTRate (above) suggest there was effort on the defensive side of the ball...

Odds and Ends...
Dante Cunningham turned in his 3rd double-double of the seaon, the second in three games. He will need a good game against DePaul on Thursday as Drummond will not be available. Dante and another frontcourt player will have to contend with 5th senior Wes Green and super freshman Mac Koshwal.
Dwayne Anderson went 2-4 in 18 minutes of play. Ordinarily that would be a very decent outing, but for Anderson, who had not missed a shot in 4 previous games, it would have to be considered "substandard". Congratulatins to Dwayne for going 8-10 so far. His only 3 point shot was a miss, so his 2FGM is 0.899. Not bad. The 18 run was Anderson's longest so far this season. His PPWS is 1.43, an excellent shooting average.
Five Wildcats scored in double digits, 9 in all scored at least 3 points. Nine Wildcats also recorded assists (they are getting it...) in probably the best indication that the Take 'em Offense is giving way to set plays and offensive schemes. The pace however, at 76+ suggests these guys are not slowing down.
Casiem Drummond, as reported by Let's Go Nova Sunday, has been sidelined with a stress fracture in his ankle. This is terrible news for Drummond, as he has been rounding into great shape this season, and seems ready to breakout. Hopefully the Nova Nation will see him back in action, with the proper rehabilitation, soon. Injuries of this type are becoming far too common for many teams in D1 basketball to continue to go uncommented on. Hopefully the NCAA will complete it's study of athlete injuries and come up with recommendations.

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 7

Vanderbilt managed to leapfrog Villanova in last Monday's poll. The 'Cats stayed at #16 as the unbeaten Commodores jumped from #17 to #15 in the 12/24 poll. Vinny remained true to Villanova as he ranked the Wildcats one spot above the Commodores on his ballot last Monday. But Nova's standing is hurt by the nine voters who continue to leave Villanova off their ballots completely. Mid-teens is probably close to the ceiling for a team that can't get at least a #25 ranking on every ballot.

My Big East Blogger Poll for this week:

1 - Marquette
2 - Georgetown
3 - Pittsburgh
4 - Villanova
5 - Louisville
6 - Connecticut
7 - West Virginia
8 - Providence
9 - Notre Dame
10 - Seton Hall
11 - Syracuse
12 - South Florida
13 - DePaul
14 - St. John's
15 - Rutgers
16 - Cincinnati

Player of the Week: Jerome Dyson, Connecticut

Rookie of the Week: Corey Fisher, Villanova

Who's Up...Who's Down...
The top 3 rotated again as Pittsburgh dropped a 15 point game at Dayton on Saturday. Far worse than the losing the game, the Panthers have lost another starter, this time Levance Fields, their pg who scored the winning points in their win over Duke. Fields will be out 5+ weeks with a fracture in his foot. Marquette moves up to #1 while I moved Georgetown up to #2. Teams #1 through #4 all have one loss now. The 1/06/08 Villanova -- Pittsburgh game in the Pavilion (Villanova's homecourt) looms very large for both teams now, but especially for Pitt as they now have 40% of their starting lineup on the shelf. I swapped spots for Louisville & West Virginia. The Mountaineers dropped their 2nd game of the season to Oklahoma while the Cardinals got Palacios back (and maybe some good news about injured David Padgett). #8 through #16 stay pretty much the same as Cincinnati

This week's OWs...
Dar Tucker had another good performance, this time against Detroit. But Villanova's Corey Fisher turned in another outstanding game, this time against Big 5 opponent La Salle. So I am voting for Corey this week. As for the Player of the Week, I voted for Paul Harris of Syracuse. He had an impressive 19 point, 15 rebound performance against Northeastern on Sunday.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Preview -- La Salle Explorers

The Wildcats and Explorers renew their Big 5 rivalry on Saturday. The La Salle series, which stands at 29-26, is the second most competitive among Villanova's Big 5 rivalries. The Explorers may be 5 decades removed from their National Championship, but they have managed in each of the intervening decades, to find at least one very talented player to build a team around. Three of those players, Tom Gola (1954), Michael Brooks (1980) and Lionel Simmons (1990) have been honored as player of the year. They last earned a bid to the NCAAs in the 1991-92 season. The current 5-0 winning streak ties the longest consecutive Ws/Ls sequence in the rivalry history. One would have to go back to the early 1970s (1972-73 through 1976-77) Villanova's 5 game losing streak to find another streak of comparable longevity. A win this season would, like the win streak Villanova tied against Temple earlier in the month, would set another record...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a C and the bench/depth a B. A team whose freshmen promised to be the brightest lights last season are now sophomores, with another promising (but not as large...) group of freshmen to join them. The road will not be lonely.

Giannini is entering the season with a promising collection of sophomores in Rodney Green, an Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team selection last season, Kimmani Barrett and Yves Mekongo Mbala. With Sherman Diaz and Darnell Harris being the only seniors on the team, he is hoping the talented youngsters continue to mature. "The sophomores and freshmen make up the team that will play the next couple of years," said Giannini, who has four newcomers on his roster, including promising twin forwards Jerrell and Terrell Williams. "We are on a mission to win games, sharpen our skills and prove that (13th place) prediction wrong...That team will be good, very good," Giannini said. "This season is all about the growth of the freshmen and sophomores and this is the hardest working team I've had in 21 years of coaching."
- Brendan F. Quinn, The Bulletin, 1026/2007, "Owls, Explorers Hope To Join Hawks As Contenders"

The promising freshmen are sophomores now. They still have a nice mix of upper classmen who may well provide perspective and maturity to this group.

Why Everyone Believes...
...A run at the A10 championship is most likely out of the question, but the sophomores, Kimmani Barrett (guard, 6-6, 190lbs), Rodney Green (guard, 6-5, 190), Rubin Guillandeaux (guard, 6-6, 185) and Yves Mekongo-Mbala (forward, 6-6, 185) will get better, the incoming freshmen will provide depth and contribute to the overall success of the team. As the season progresses the group may be in a strong position to make some noise next season. Any damage they do this season will suggest what they can do next season.

So Far...
...After a 3-2 (promising...) start in November, La Salle took to the road in December and have gone 1-4. Those losses include Bucknell (Patriot League, 4-6, RPI #194), Morgan State (MEAC, 5-4, RPI #124), Mississippi (SEC, 11-0, RPI #11) and DePaul (Big East, 3-7, RPI #146). The lone December win came over Puerto Rico Mayaguez, a D2 school and host of the San Juan Tip Off Classic. The 'Cats and Explorers share a common opponent (so far) this year:


Admittedly not much to go on. Annual rivalries are even more difficult to predict because emotions usually run very high.

La Salle By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years La Salle's RPI has ranged from a high of #104 (2005-06) to a low of #286 (2006-07). La Salle is a higher than average pace team this season (71.9 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's La Salle Scout Page which ranks the Explorers #79 out of approx. 343 - the current average for pace is 69.4). La Salle's 4 Factors for Offense and Defense look like this:

When La Salle...eFGRnkTOvRnkORebRnkFRateRnk on Offense49.318623.725037.94920.9265 on Defense48.613118.132532.213034.2137

The Explorers' overall Offensive rating (adjusted) is 99.4, ranked #189. In short La Salle is struggling to put points on the board. Their offensive rebounding percentage (37.9 -- #49) is very good and should mask their lack of accuracy shooting the ball. But they turn it over a bit too much (23.7, nearly 1 time in 4), and they don't get to the line often. Their lack of agression is apparent on defense as well. While La Salle appears to be foul prone (that may be a byproduct of the number of defeats -- late game fouling to regain a possession quickly. But the Explorers do not rebound the defensive glass as well as they do the offense, and they do not force turnovers.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Coach Giannini will start sophomore Yves Mekongo-Mbala, junior Paul Johnson (6-6, 195) and most likely freshman Jerrell Williams (6-8, 210). Also drawing consistent minutes in a frontcourt rotation are are senior Sherman Diaz (6-4, 190) and Jerrell Williams' twin brother Terrell, also a freshman (6-8, 210). Villanova will counter with 2+ year starter Dante Cunningham, most likely partnered with fellow junior Shane Clark. If this game is consistent with other December games, redshirt freshman Antonio Pena and Corey Stokes will also see time. Sophomore center Casiem Drummond, who played briefly against Temple and then missed the Hartford and Columbia games with some tendonitis, will most likely sit out this game as well. La Salle's tallest players are the Williams twins, Terrell and Jerrell, both of whom measure at 6-8.

Backcourt vs backcourt......Coming into the season Rubin Guillandeaux was tabbed as the point guard of the furture. Guillandeaux has only received small amounts of time. It is doubtful that he will start the Villanova game. Starting nods to to senior (& 1000 point scorer) Darnell Harris is starting along with Rodney Green and wingman Kimmani Barrett. Guillandeaux (6-6, 185) and freshman Kyle Griffin (6-3, 185) round out the regulars. Freshman Darryl Parton (6-4, 180) also gets a little bit of PT. The staff will counter with Big East rookie of the year winner Scottie Reynolds, along with (most likely...) Reggie Redding and freshmen Corey Fisher. Grant will also draw double digit minutes off the bench...

Final Thoughts...
...The Explorers will look to Darnell Harris, their senior sometime point guard, to supply the large measure of their offense. Indeed when he is on the court he will take (according to Pomeroy's La Salle Scout Page), about 25% of their FGAs. And that attempt will most likely come from behind the 3 point line. Harris is La Salles' most dangerous three point threat, but shares his role with Rodney Green who is decidely less efficient. Together they take about 47% of the touches and nearly 54% of La Salle's FGAs when they are on the court together. Harris & Green are the featured pieces in La Salle's backcourt-oriented offense. The 'Cats can expect to see 2 point attemtps from Barrett and Guillandeaux, both of whom contribute efficient scoring when they are on the court. Kyle Griffin also scores, though his efficiency may benefit from attention devoted to Barrett, Guillandeaux, Green and Harris. The frontcourt is there to rebound, block shots and get to the line. Mbala, Johnson, Jerrell Williams (and guard Kimmani Barrett) are all ranked in the Top 500 for offensive rebounding percentage (see side bar links for an explanation of possession-based stats). Those same three forwards and guard Rodney Green are ranked #200-#499 for defensive rebound percentage as well. If a shot is coming from the #4 or #5 position, it will most likely be taken by Jerrell Williams or Paul Johnson. Villanova's frontcourt should get one of it's biggest rebounding challenges from La Salle's frontcourt. It should be a good test going into Big East play.

Even though Villanova is on break the students and alums should be able to fill the Pav with fanatics. Played in those familiar confines (as opposed to the Palestra) should provide enough advantages for the 'Cats to take this game with a double digit margin. Any closer and fans will have to wonder whether the team will be able to stand the rigors of their Big East schedule. A win against La Salle would gurantee that Nova's February 4th meeting with St. Joseph's(PA) would decide the Big 5 championship and put Villanova in line to win an unprecedented 4th straight City Series. Ken Pomeroy gives the nod (95%) to Villanova and projects a +21 point margin of victory.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Cincinnati -- NCSU Foul Fest

The Cincinnati - North Carolina State game produced one of the stranger box scores I have seen in the past few seasons. I have reproduced and organized the possession-based stats by halves, a technique I borrowed from The Hoya Prospectus Blog.

Offense Defense
First SecondTotalFirst SecondTotal

The first half seems to fit an all-too familiar pattern for the Bearcats under Mick Cronin. The offense is slow to get going as evidenced by their 91.1 ORtg, and the defense seems to be in the same rut as they allow NCSU to run out to a 38-29 half time lead on a DRtg of 118.1. Cronin made a number of half time adjustments on offense as indicated by the vastly improved second half offensive numbers. Note the large first to second half increases in ORtg%, eFG% (effective field goal percentage) and OR% (offensive rebounding percentage). Cincinnati did a better job of converting possessions into points while limiting the number of turnovers. I doubt that increasing their foul rate on the Wolf Pack by a factor of 4+ was part of their adjustment (see the yellow highlight above). An FTRate of 52.0 for an entire team for a game would be pretty high. Some teams, Connecticut comes to mind, will look to free throws for a quarter or more of their points. They expect to get to the line about 4 times (or slightly more) for every 10 FGAs they have. In the first half alone NCSU was getting to the line (slightly...) better than once for evrery 2 FGAs. And in the second half they lived on the line. The pack had 16 field goal attempts, and 37 free throw attempts. The NCSU frontcourt absorbed about 60% of the second half fouls. Though relatively untouched in the first half (Grant got to the line 3 times), Hickson, Costner, Grant and McCauley picked up 37 free throw attempts in the last 20 minutes. Courtney Fells and Javier Gonzalez, both guards, also picked up a lot of practice at the line.

The margin of victory, 8 points, was made 4 times over at the line. The Wolf Pack scored 43.5% of their points without the benefit of an opponent's hand in their face. Not bad. For Villanova the home court advantage for fouls is about +4% so far. Assuming the same differential was applied last night in Raleigh, the Wolf Pack would have lost that game by 11 points. Almost as strange as the foul differential was the apparent lack of protest on the part of the Cincinnati staff. I would not be surprised, having heard about the result, to have found a technical assessed against the Cincinnati staff. But there was none.

I will post the breakdown by halves for the Columbia game when I have more time. I looked at it briefly and it does appear that Villanova put up some good 3 point defense in the first half. Of course the box score can't tell me whether the 'Cats got a hand in the shooter's face, or if the shooter just plain missed. In any event, the 'Cats will need better 3 point defense going into Big East play.

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 6

Vinny appears to be moving to the front of the Villanova bandwagon, as he ranked the 'Cats #16 on his ballot last Monday. This is the second week running Vinny has been among the writers who ranked Villanova higher than their consensus spot. Happily Seth Davis and Ed Graney both joined the bandwagon when they ranked the Wildcats #23. Maybe with some of the unsettling results in the past week they will move the 'Cats up a spot or two on their ballots. There are still (as of last week's poll) nine voters who left Villanova off their ballots completely. It's what makes this a great country, no?

My Big East Blogger Poll for this week:

1 - Pittsburgh
2 - Marquette
3 - Georgetown
4 - Villanova
5 - West Virginia
6 - Connecticut
7 - Louisville
8 - Notre Dame
9 - Providence
10 - Seton Hall
11 - Syracuse
12 - South Florida
13 - DePaul
14 - St. John's
15 - Rutgers
16 - Cincinnati

Player of the Week: Levance Fields, Pittsburgh

Rookie of the Week: DaJuan Blair, Pittsburgh

Who's Up...Who's Down...
While virtually all of the Big East are through with finals, many are, with Christmas in mind, still working their way through their stocking stuffers and resume builders. This was not the case for Georgetown and Pittsburgh, two teams in the first quartile. Both put their unbeaten records on the line against two other unbeatens. And produced mixed results. Another shake-up among the first quartile elites is indicated. I moved Pitt to the top spot in the wake of their win over Duke, a team that beat Marquette in Maui last month. And I dropped the Hoyas 2 spots to #3. Losing to Memphis was only part of the rational. With a very close loss I might have justified keeping the Hoyas in the top rank, after all, the latest AP poll had the Tigers ranked #2, while the Hoyas were ranked #5. Losing to a higher ranked team should be no surprise. It was the -14 point margin that caught me short. I anticipated at least one "Are you kidding me?!" loss for the Hoyas in their OOC, the product of integrating freshmen/transfers into Coach Thompson's Princeton Offense. But the margin (and some of the play during the second half -- I caught the game on ESPN) suggested the Hoyas have a few vulnerabilities that may be, by the right team in the right circumstances, exploited in the Big East season. As for West Virginia over Villanova, I am going to wait on that a bit longer. Neither was especially noteworthy in their wins over mid/low majors over the weekend. I did shuffle the bottom quartile around to reflect recent wins/losses...again. I rotated Rutgers, St. John's and DePaul to reflect the formers losses and the latter's wins. The Scarlet Knights lost to Rider of the NEC, the Johnnies lost to a struggling Tulane squad (CUSA) to close out a 1-2 run in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii, while the Blue Demons beat La Salle of the A10 (and Big 5) to finish out their otherwise disappointing 1-2 run in the San Juan Shootout Tournament. Cincinnati, on the heels of their loss to NC State, remains firmly in control of the #16 spot.

Player of the week was difficult this time, as there were a number of terrific individual efforts that caught my eye...
Connecticut's Stanley Robinson turned in a high scoring double-double against Maine. His 32 points was (I believe) a career high, and coupled with his 11 rebounds, produced his second double-double this season. The Maine squad, out of the American East conference, could not match the Huskies athleticism, as the huge edge in offensive rebounds (UConn grabbed 55.0% of their ORebs, while Maine managed to grab only 22.9% of their ORebs) and blocks suggested. Connecticut is a great shot blocking team, but they turned in their third best performance against the Black Bears, blocking nearly 18% of Maine's FGAs. Robinson has had a very nice run in his last three games.

Notre Dame's Luke Harangody turned in another double-doubles last week. This latest one, against San Francisco, was a 23 point (8-17, 0-0, 7-9), 10 rebound (5-5) effort in 28 minutes of play. Harangody also turned in one assist and two steals. This is the third consecutive double-double this for Harangody, as he recorded a 14 point, 12 rebound effort against Northern Illinois on 12/8 and a 19 point, 14 rebound night against Kansas State on 12/4. This is Harangody's fifth double-double in ten games so far this season. The sophomore is on his way to Player of the Year-type numbers.

Providence has three candidates for player of the week honors, streaky off guard Weymini Efejuku, sometime center Randall Hanke and Geoff McDermott. Efejuku scored 22 points in 26 minutes versus Sacred Heart. He was 6-11, (3-5, 3-6) and 7-9 from the free throw line. Efejuku posted an eFG% of 68.2 and a PPWS of 1.44. This was a double-double performance as Efejuku grabbed 10 rebounds (1-9). He followed Sacred Heart with another noteworthy effort against Florida State. He scored 25 points (8-14, 2-3, 6-11), dished 4 assists and recorded 3 steals in 33 minutes of play. Randall Hanke also turned in a terrific performance against Sacred Heart, scoring 20 points in 21 minutes. He was 8-11 from the field and 4-4 from the line, thus posting an eye-popping eFG% of 72.7 and a PPWS of 1.55, numbers reminiscent of his sophomore year as a Friar. He followed with another extremely efficient offensive performance against the Seminoles, scoring 15 points and posting an eFG% of 75.0. Geoff McDermott was the third leg of the Friar offensive juggernaut this past week. He started with a "quiet" 21 point (6-8, 0-0, 9-14), 10 rebound (4-6) double-double performance. McDermott also had a pair of sixes -- assists and blocks. He logged a second double-double against Florida State on Saturday. But this one was points and assists -- he scored 12 points while dishing out 10 assists in Providence's 101-95 win over the Seminoles. His 2 game total included 33 points, 17 rebounds, 16 assists to go with 6 blocks and 6 steals.

My vote however, is going to go to Levance Fields of Pittsburgh, for his work in the Pitt-Duke game. Fields scored 21 points in Pitt's come-from-behind (by 13 points) victory over Duke in Madison Square Garden on Thursday. He delivered the dagger with about 5 seconds on the clock in the overtime period. After freezing his defender with a cross over dribble, Fields stepped back over the line and nailed a 3 to give the Panthers a 1 point lead. Another Panther, DaJuan Blair, gets my vote for Rookie of the Week, also for his performance against Duke. Blair's 15 point (4-8, 0-0, 7-15) 20 rebound (6-14) performance against #9 Duke last Thursday was tremendous. And he did this opposite Kyle Singler, Duke's MDAA freshman center. In their "Battle of the Freshman Centers" Blair acquitted himself very well, scoring only 2 fewer points but out rebounding Singler 20 to 5. Blair also had 1 assist, 3 blocked shots and 1 steal to Singler's 2 assists, 0 blocks and 1 steal. In short, Blair turned in a very noteworthy performance and did it against one of the best freshmen in the country.

Friday, December 21, 2007

About Last Night...Pitt vs Duke

I managed to catch about 70% of the Pittsburgh - Duke game last night. As bad as Pitt appeared to be in the first half they were great in the second half. If I have time to do a half breakdown (assuming Hoya Prospectus has not done it already...) later I will go ahead and post. I watched most of the second half and OT period however and knew I would breakdown the gamelog when it was published. The Panthers stormed back from a half time deficit of 12 points to take the lead and eventually settle for a tie to go to OT. A Panther fan described it as a "rock fight", and he was not far off. I counted 32 possessions for Duke and 31 for Pitt -- Duke began and ended the half in possession of the ball. Extrapolated over 2 halves that would have paced the game at 63.5 possessions, far lower than Duke, who had a raw pace of 73.9 going in had played this season (about a 14.1% reduction in possessions). The difference for Pittsburgh was also evident, but not as significant, as Pitt went in with a raw pace of 66.8. Since Duke scored 24 points in the second half, that means their offensive rating was 75.0. Great even by Pitt's high standards. The Panthers by contrast were able to climb out of that 12 point hole they put themselves into in the first half. They had a 116.1 offensive rating for the second half. Terrific work by DaJuan Blair, an under the radar freshman who grabbed 20 rebounds to go with 15 points before he fouled out in the OT period and Levance Fields, Pitt's point guard who posted 21 for the night, 12 in the second half and overtime. He hit the 3 pointer with less than 5 seconds remaining in overtime to take the lead away from the Blue Devils for good.

The one very sad note on Pittsburgh's win was the injury to wing Mike Cook. It happened in the opening moments of the OT period. By all reports Cook is done for the year, and since he is a senior, most probably his career at Pittsburgh. Combining the injury loss of Cook with Blair's fifth foul (occurred about a minute later), Pitt's ability as a team to play through speaks volumes about the players and the staff.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Preview -- Columbia Lions

Another former Big 5 assistant brings his team to the Pavilion to play Villanova. This time the former assistant is Villanova's own Joe Jones, and the team is the Columbia University Lions. Jones brings what might be Columbia's strongest squad in 40 years into the Pav on Saturday evening for the second meeting since Jones took the Columbia HC position. Their first meeting, in Jones' first year as HC, was four years to the day of this meeting (12/22/2003). The Wildcats beat the Lions 74-66. Overall this is the fourth meeting in a series that dates back to the 1969-70 season. Villanova holds a 3-1 advantage...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B-, the frontcourt a B+ and the bench/depth a A.

Escape from New York? That won't be for opponents. Every key player returns from a Lions team that posted the program's best record since the 1992-93 season. The veterans include four senior starters...With some better results on the road, coach Joe Jones' squad can be a factor in the (Ivy League) title race.
- Athlon's 2007-08 NCAA Preview

In a year in which the winner of the Ivy League will most likely not be a school whose name starts with the letter "P", Columbia (along with Yale and Cornell) is listed as a serious contender.

Why Everyone Believes...
...The team that finished on nice jag last season returns virtually intact. An upper classmen-dominated frontcourt is anchored at the center & forward spots by seniors Ben Nwachukwu (center, 6-9, 235) and John Baumann (forward, 6-8, 220). The backcourt offers senior Brett Loscalzo (6-0, 180) at the point (backed up by senior Kashif Sweet, a 5-11 180 ball handler), with a small army of (all veteran) off guards to choose from, The list includes soph. Niko Scott (6-3, 200), senior Mack Montgomery (6-5, 195), junior KJ Matsui (6-2, 180), senior Justin Armstrong (6-4, 225), soph Patrick Foley (6-2, 170) and soph Kevin Bulger (6-3, 200). Given the shift to offensive schemes that offer opportunities for 3s, the depth of backcourt and wing players, virtually all with at least a year of experience with Coach Jones, is impressive.

So Far...
...Columbia puts a 4-6 record on the line when they face the Wildcats. The Lions participated in the NIT Tip-off where they won their first round game against Delaware State (MEAC, 3-6, RPI #205), but lost their second round game to Ohio State (Big 10, 6-3, RPI #87 ). The Lions have also beaten Stony Brook (AE, , RPI #), Wagner (NEC, 7-3, RPI #229) and St. Francis (NY) (NEC, 3-8, RPI #276). They have lost to Fordham (A10, 4-4, RPI #183), Albany (AE, 5-5, RPI #197), Long Island University (NEC, 7-3, RPI #118), Sacret Heart (NEC, 3-6, RPI #288) and Lafayette (Patriot League, 6-3, RPI #208). The 'Cats and Lions share a single opponent so far this year -- Stony Brook of the American East Conference...

Stony BrookW (H)+22W (A)+20

Columbia By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years Columbia's RPI has ranged from #325 (Coach Jone's first season) up to #202 (last season). Columbia is a well lower average pace team this season (63.5 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Columbia Scout Page which ranks the Lions #303 out of approx. 341 - the current average for pace is 68.6). Columbia's Four Factors stats for offense and defense (ranks as of 12/17/2007)...

Columbia's Four Factors
Columbia on...eFG%RnkTO%RnkOR%RnkFGARnk

The defensive numbers are not too bad -- the Lions could force more turnovers, but a general lack of aggression on defense is a characteristic of a perimeter oriented team (see side bar for more details). The one anomaly (with respect to POTs) is the FTRate. At 38.8 (#227), it is a bit high for a team whose offensive scheme trades physical play (in the paint) for open looks on the perimeter. While their shot defense (49.4, #166) is ok, they give up a lot of points inside -- their 2FGM% is 50.0, opponents make ½ of their 2FGAs. On offense the Lions show many of the POT characteristics as well, but the one very bad stat is eFG%. At 46.0 it is a killer. Given the mix of 3FGAs to 2FGAs (46.1, or almost ½ of their FGAs are 3s...), the Lions are struggling from the field (2FGM% is 43.9, #289, 3FGM% is 32.4, #237)

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...With a roster of seven frontcourt players to choose from (4 of them upper classmen) Coach Jones has given the minutes to seniors Ben Nwachukwu (center) and John Baumann (forward). Baumann has delivered, taking nearly 75% of the minutes at his position, 25% of the available possessions (when he is on the floor) and 28% of the shots (that's almost 3 of every 10 shots taken...). His ORtg (112.6) confirms that he is efficient despite the defensive attention he no doubt draws. He is the Lions most effective offensive weapon. Nwachukwu and junior forward Joe Bova (6-7, 220) see minutes (about 50% of the PT), but are valued far more for their defense (both are Top 500 rebounders, Nwachukwu for both offense and defensive rebounding and Bova for defensive rebounding), than their offense. Asenso Ampim (fr., 6-6, 240), Zack Crimmins (fr. 7-0, 220) and Jason Miller (jr., 6-8, 215) see occasional minutes. Villanova's staff will most likely start Dante Cunningham (a virtual starter from his freshman year) and Shane Clark (if he is healthy). Casiem Drummond was a consistent starter until the LSU game. And he was held out of the Hartford game with an ankle sprain. If healthy he, along with Antonio Pena and Corey Stokes, will no doubt see minutes.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Coach Jones will most likely start senor Brett Loscalzo and soph Niko Scott. While Mack Montgomery has gotten more of the available starts than the other contenders (9 starts in all), Patrick Foley & KJ Matsui have also started at least one game apiece. Kevin Bulger, Justin Armstrong and senior Kashif Sweet (5-11, 180) have all received minutes coming off the bench. The problem is perimeter scoring. Coach Jones is looking for a consistent outside complement to Baumann. While Loscalzo provides some efficient offense (his ORtg is 107.0), he is a distribute-first point guard who will set up someone else rather than take the shot himself. Coach Jones needs another consistent outside scorer. KJ Matsui may step into that role -- his ORtg of 117.3 suggests he has the potential, but with only 19.3% of the PT so far he has not seen the floor enough yet to stake his claim to that spot on the wing. Villanova will start Scottie Reynolds. Reggie Redding has started every game so far, but has struggled the past two outings. Corey Fisher started against both Temple and Hartford, and may well get the nod again. Malcolm Grant is virtually guaranteed to see the floor as well, most likely for at least 10+ minutes.

Final Thoughts...
...This game will brings another veteran perimeter shooting team to test Nova's perimeter defense. The team can use the work, as perimeter defense (specifically defending the 3 point shot) has been a persistent problem. Columbia will get to take it's turn. Baumann, Nwachukwu and Bova seem to be less athletic versions of Cunningham and Pena. It will be interesting to see if the Villanova frontcourt rebounders will be able to limit Columbia's opportunities. Baumann in particular makes his living at the free throw line, and could therefore, pose a particular challenge to Cunningham, who has been prone to quick fouls. If they are on the floor together, expect Columbia's offense to come from some combination of Baumann, Matsui, Foley, Nwachukwu or Scott. Only Baumann and Matsui however, have been consistent.

Coach Wright has an aversion to running up the score, though historically it has proven to be an effective way to impress Poll voters. Given that Jones is a former assistant, I doubt the 'Cats will run out to a huge lead here either, but most likely will control the flow of the game early on (especially given Columbia's shooting problems). In game situations where control is established early, the staff has run a rotation of 11 to 12 players. If it happens Saturday, look for Dwayne Andersone, the hero of the Hartford game, along with Andy Ott and Frank Tchuisi to get some minutes. Ken Pomeroy's log5 calculation shows a decided bias towards Villanova (98%). The adjusted offensive/defensive ratings project a +26 Villanova win (with a game pace of 66 possessions).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 5

Vinny took a seat on the Villanova bandwagon last week when he ranked the 'Cats #19 on his AP ballot last week according to pollstalker. There is definitely extra room on the bandwagon if Seth Davis and Ed Graney want to jump on board.

My Big East Blogger Poll for this week:

1 - Georgetown
2 - Pittsburgh
3 - Marquette
4 - Villanova
5 - West Virginia
6 - Connecticut
7 - Louisville
8 - Notre Dame
9 - Providence
10 - Seton Hall
11 - Syracuse
12 - South Florida
13 - St. John's
14 - Rutgers
15 - DePaul
16 - Cincinnati

Player of the Week: Jerome Dyson, Connecticut

Rookie of the Week: Dar Tucker, DePaul

Who's Up...Who's Down...
This appears to be finals week for most Big East schools, so most teams played one opponent, if any this week. And the competition was mostly cupcakes. My top 5, though I have been tempted to move West Virginia over Villanova, the Wildcats managed to beat their designated patsy, Hartford, by +28, 3 more than Pomeroy predicted. Another slow start against Columbia next weekend and I might be even more tempted, especially since West Virginia is scheduled to play Radford, a team Georgetown beat handily this week. I did shuffle the bottom three quartiles around to reflect recent wins/losses and team developments. Louisville lost their 3rd game of the season to Purdue on Saturday. Center/forward Derrick Caracter was suspended after the loss to Dayton last Saturday, so, after drafting Josh Chichester from the football team (a move that reminded me of Andy Kennedy's raid on the Cincinnati football team to get Connor Barwin...) the Cardinals went to Purdue with an extremely depleted front court (no Padgett, no Palacios, no Caracter). And lost 67-59. The Cardinals have gone 3-3 since losing David Padgett. I moved them down another position this week to make way for Connecticut. I also moved Providence down a spot even though they beat Brown by +19 last week. With 3 losses, including 2 the week before last, I think Connecticut is doing better right now. I moved Notre Dame up another spot, leapfrogging Providence. Syracuse may have won the battle against East Tennessee State on Saturday, but did they lose the war? Off guard Eric Devendorf is out with an ACL tear that ended his season. The Orange lost wing Andy Rautins in August to a similar injury, and so appear to be very short of outside scoring threats. Looks as though Philadelphia's Scoop Jardine will get the abbreviated version of Coach Boeheim's orientation for new players. Syracuse also appears to have lost senior pg Josh Wright. Wright appeared briefly in the season opener with Siena, disappeared for five games, then reappeared to take garbage time minutes in 3 games. He was DNP for ETSU, and according to accounts, was not on the bench. Wright started most of Syracuse's games at the point last season, but was displaced by freshman Jonny Flynn during preseason practice. The Orange stay at #11 this week (for me anyway), but there are some rough weeks ahead for them. In the bottom (or so) quartile I had South Florida and St. John's swap spots. The Bulls did not play last week, but the Johnnies dropped a game to Niagara (MAAC Conference...) over the weekend. The bottom 3 teams all lost last week, but DePaul is losing "more quickly" than Rutgers, and at almost the same rate as Cincinnati at this point. So I dropped them to #15.

The competition was pretty meager this week, most coaches emptied their benches before their starters ran up the points. Or the team lost and the rotation stayed pretty tight. Joe Alexander of West Virginia had a pretty good game against Maryland-Baltimore County over the weekend. Joe scored 20 points in 29 minutes, snagged 8 rebounds and had 2 assists. But my vote for player of the week goes to Connecticut's Jerome Dyson, who scored 23 points in 29 minutes, dishing 3 assists, snagging 4 rebounds and pinching 2 steals in the process. Jerome's eFG% for the game was a very nice 61.8, produced while getting a good deal of defensive attention from the Bobcats. The freshman player was tough since Dominique Jones was not playing this week (Bulls had finals?). Villanova's Corey Fisher had 18 points, 3 assists and 2 steals against Hartford on Friday night. He had an eFG of 75.0 and a PPWS of 1.36 -- both very good offensive numbers (see side bar for further reading). But if the Blue Demons are going to salvage anything from this season, Dar Tucker is going to have to have a number of nights like he had in their losing effort againt Illinois - Chicago. Tucker, coming off the bench, scored a double-double in 23 minutes of play. He scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Demons 85-80 loss to Illinois - Chicago. The Demons, at 2-5, are really struggling right now.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hartford Post Game: Spurtability?

The Wildcats played what has been charitably described as "an uninspired" first half, taking a 44-41 lead into the lockeroom. Even 10 minutes into the second half the 'Cats were still "playing with their food". And then Bam! it was all over. Both Let's Go Nova and I Bleed Blue and White provide good narratives and descriptions of the game and players, so I will just look over the box score and point out one or two things. The numbers by half:

Pace37.639.2 76.8
 Offense Defense
1st2ndGame 1st2ndGame

The first to second half transition was, unlike the Temple game, very clear statistically. Nova's defensive eFG dropped from 55.2 to 38.9, reflected in the Hawks 10-28 field goal shooting (1-10 from the 3 point line). The 'Cats forced turnovers at a much higher rate after the break -- the Hawks lost nearly 1 in 3 possessions. And the Hawks gathered a lower percentage of their missed FGAs, again a sign that the Villanova players were working harder on defense. The designated catalyst for this game was junior Dwayne Anderson who played for 11 minutes, the critical 9 minutes in the second half (of the second half...). Anderson scored 8 points on 4-4 shooting, set up Scottie and Dante with assists, had 2 steals and 3 rebounds (1-2) in the space of those 9 minutes. In the last 21 possessions of the ball game the 'Cats scored 36 points for an ORtg of 157.1 (excellent) over that period, but most importantly, they held the Hawks to 11 points (DRtg of 52.4 -- even more impressive) over their last 21 possessions. For that spurt the team recorded a 47.6 Assist Rate and a 19.0 Stl%. All very impressive numbers. Now if they can do that for a game...

Odds and Ends...
Dante Cunningham scored his 2nd double-double of the season as he put up 13 points (6-8, 0-0, 1-1) and 13 rebounds (7-6). His PPWS (points per weighted shot -- see side bar for an explanation) for the game was an excellent 1.53, raising his PPWS for the season to 1.10.
Casiem Drummond was DNP, tendonitis in his ankle. He should be back for the Columbia or La Salle game.
Five Wildcats scored in double digits, 9 in all scored at least 3 points. Nine Wildcats also recorded assists (they are getting it...) in probably the best indication that the Take 'em Offense is giving way to set plays and offensive schemes. The pace however, at 76+ suggests these guys are not slowing down.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Complement...Sort of

The Villanova Wildcats received some backdoor recognition from an unlikely source last week. Ken Pomeroy was writing about the difficulty of developing or identifying a good metric for rating defensive players over at The Basketball Prospectus. In his article, "The Renaldo Balkman Threshold" he suggested that while measures for offense are available (relatively speaking) in abundance -- shooting percentages, 2 point/3 point shooting mix, assists, offensive rebounds, turnovers...a similar metric that measures "defensive prowess" has only rebounds (defensive...), steals and blocked shots to work with. After toying with a dual measure of steal percentage and blocked shots percentage, Pomeroy began to cite specifics...

Remember Anthony Randolph? I bet Villanova guards Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding and Corey Fisher do. They have nightmares about him. But I bet they can't pick him out of a lineup, because they never got a good look at him. Their field goal attempts "blocked" their view. Randolph, freshman forward for LSU, along with teammate Chris Johnson sent 7 of LSU's 14 blocked shots back at them. Randolph picked up his fifth foul at the 4:08 mark of the second half. Villanova had 10 possessions after that, and scored 19 points in 9 of the those 10 possessions -- that is a ppp of 2.11. Pomeroy keeps it Randolph-focused however by pointing out that during Randolph's 50 possessions (those Villanova possessions when he was on the court) the 'Cats scored 33 points. For the 28 possessions when he was sitting the 'Cats scored 35 points. The guy is a keeper. Now if he would only smile...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Preview -- Hartford Hawks

Hartford is the second American East Conference team (and the first of two Hawk teams...and the first of two Connecticut teams...) Villanova faces this season. The Wildcats opened against the Seawolves of Stony Brook, beating them 86-64, back in November. This is also a Philadelphia/Big 5 reunion of sorts, as the Hartford head coach is Dan Leibovitz, spent 10 years as assistant to John Chaney at Temple before moving over the Hartford when Chaney retired, and Hartford has two players, guard Joe Zeglinski and forward Anthony Minor, on the roster...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a A-, the frontcourt a C and the bench/depth a C.

..."Last year there weren't any seniors who could say to the younger guys 'hey, this is how you do it', Leibovitz said. "Everyone was on the same page. Now we have some guys who have gone through a season and know we're doing. Some things we didn't get to last year, but the work ethic has been established"...
- Hartford Preview, 2007-08 Blue Ribbon Yearbook

So Far...
...The H Hawks are currently 5-6, with wins over Sacred Heart (NEC, 3-6, RPI #283), Jackson State (SWAC, 1-10, RPI #287), South Carolina State (MEAC, 3-6, RPI #278), Army (Patrior League, 4-5, RPI #233) and most recently, Monmouth (NEC, 2-7, RPI #229). They started the season with a two game skid, St. Francis (NY) (NEC, 4-7, RPI #291) and Quinnipiac (NEC, 4-4, RPI #285). Their other four losses were to Louisville (Big East, 5-2, RPI #38), BYU (MWC, 7-2, RPI #84), LIU Brooklyn (NEC, 6-9, RPI #119) and lastly, North Texas (Sun Belt, 4-2, RPI #19!!). All 6 losses have been road games. Villanova and Hartford share several opponents this year (Stony Brook, Louisville, etc.), but those games will be played later. No common comparisons to share at this point.

Hartford Hawks By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years Hartford's RPI has dipped as low as #300 and risen as high as #168 (last season). Hartford is a slightly lower than average pace team this season (68.2 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Hartford Scout Page which ranks Hartford #184 out of approx. 341 - the current average for pace is 68.6). Their offensive and defensive stats which influence their efficiency:

Hartford's Four Factors
Hartford on...eFG%

Offensively, the Hawk's are a perimeter-oriented team -- a logical choice if there is no big man for the middle. They fit the "classic description" for a POT, as given by The Big Ten Wonk...they shoot over 40% of their FGAs as 3s (43.9 actually), do not turnover the ball much, do not get to the line much (little/no contact which tends to happen around the basket) and little offensive rebounding. Indeed Hartford is among the lowest ranked D1 teams for offensive rebounding. The balance of their offensive numbers are ok (but not great). Given they are trying to run an offense to get open looks out on the perimeter, but their game pace is high, there is little surprise their record hovers around 0.500. The Hawks defense needs some work. They appear to suffer the same inability to defend the shot that bedevils Nova. And their rebounding is a problem here as well. If the 'Cats miss their first attempt, it appears they can get a second pretty consistently. Especially troubling for a freshmen backcourt is Hartford's turnover rate on offense (25.7, #43). That is a very good number and suggests a problem if Fisher, Grant and Reynolds are not attentive to the ball.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...The Hawks do not have a traditional big man to take the center. Coach Leibovitz started the year with Warren McLendon (junior, 6-6, 250) coupled with Anthony Minor (freshman, 6-6, 200). Lately Minor and Kevin Estes (freshman, 6-7, 230) have started. The experiments continue no doubt with the Villanova game. Estes, along with Morgan Sabia (freshman 6-7, 200) have gotten consistent minutes from the beginning of the season. David Bookman (sophomore 6-7, 225). McLendon has not started lately but has continued to get double digit minutes in what appears to be an attempt by the Hartford staff to develop their younger players, possibly for league play next month. Villanova will start Dante Cunningham and most likely Shane Clark (assuming he is healthy and ready to go). Given that Cas Drummond is hobbled with an ankle problem (those on campus reported seeing him in a boot the day after Villanova's win over Temple), Antonio Pena, who had a great game against Temple, will see some minutes as well. Freshman Corey Stokes, redshirt freshman Andy Ott and Dwayne Anderson may also see more than end-of-the-half type minutes.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Coach Leibovitz had planned to start Jaret Von Rosenberg (junior, 6-2, 185) at the point and Joe Zeglinski (sophomore, 6-0, 185) at the #2 guard. But things change. For the past 3+ games Coach Leibovitz has started a backcourt trio consisting of Zeglinski, Rich Baker (senior, 6-1, 180) and g-f Michael Turner (junior, 6-5, 215). Von Rosenberg has played double digit minutes in most games, while Brian Glowiak (senior, 6-3, 180) and Andres Torres (freshman, 5-10, 170) have provided some depth. Coach Wright will counter with Scottie Reynolds and...a number of good candidates to choose from. Freshmen Corey Fisher and Malcolm Grant have swapped great games lately. Sophomore Reggie Redding has started all games so far this season and despite a rough outing versus Temple, will most likely get the nod again. Coach Wright will probably look to him to counter Michael Turner. If Coach Wright feels freshman Corey Stokes is ready, he may also bring him out for some serious minutes on Turner.

Final Thoughts
In truth I expect Villanova to dominate in both the front court and the back court. Hawks however has some good outside shooting, which will give the 'Cats an opportunity to work on their perimeter defense. The most accurate Hartford marksmen, guard Rich Baker and wingman Michael Turner do not however, get many opportunities to shoot as the offense tends to flow through Zeglinski and McLendon (when he is in). Neither is efficient however.

Casiem Drummond (ankle) and Shane Clark (hip pointer) have been dinged lately. If neither plays it should not be taken as a bad sign; the 'Cats should have enough to handle the Hawks while giving those two a rest. This should offer the staff an opportunity to work on some of the noted defensive weaknesses. And give some of the bench players a longer look in game situations. Pomeroy's Log5 calculation favors Villanova with a 96% confidence, and (using his adjusted offensive/defensive ratings...) projects a 25 point victory.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 4

Vinny must have liked what he saw (in the Penn game), because he ranked Villanova #23 on his AP ballot last week according to pollstalker (I'm not stalking you Vinny, honest). The Pollstalker site is very useful as it lists the contingent of AP voters (lots of familiar names -- Seth Davis, Dustin Dow, Hoops Weiss, DPO, Todd Rosiak and Ed Graney among others) and their ballots. Which allowed me to answer a question I had asked elsewhere -- "Who voted for Virginia??". Virginia lost to Seton Hall by 14 on a neutral court on November 24, and actually received more Top 25 votes than Seton Hall. It turns out that even last week Roger Clarkson of the The Athens Banner-Herald (I'm guessing Georgia...) ranked the Cavs #14 on his ballot. In Roger's defense, there were 13 other voters who ranked UVa on their ballots. But even Dick Vitale did not include them guys. I wonder how they will rank Virginia this week. They lost 70-68 to Syracuse on their homecourt last week.

My Big East Blogger Poll for this week:

1 - Georgetown
2 - Pittsburgh
3 - Marquette
4 - Villanova
5 - West Virginia
6 - Louisville
7 - Providence
8 - Connecticut
9 - Notre Dame
10 - Seton Hall
11 - Syracuse
12 - St. John's
13 - South Florida
14 - DePaul
15 - Rutgers
16 - Cincinnati

Player of the Week: Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

Rookie of the Week: Malcolm Grant, Villanova

Who's Up...Who's Down...
Louisville lost their 2nd game of the season (third in a row to Dayton -- bet that series goes on hiatus for awhile...) on Saturday. The Cardinals have gone 3-2 since losing Padgett. Given their close win over Miami (OH) last weekend, it seems they have problems with teams with big centers who play lower paced offensive schemes...Not a good sign for matching up with Georgetown. I moved them down 3 positions this week. I had them ranked #2 going into the season, but the injuries to Palacios and Padgett take two experienced players off the court, while Holloway's surgery (and Goode's academics) keep possible replacements out as well. That is a rock and a hard place for any team. Coach Pitino benched Sosa and Smith through the end of the Dayton game too. Hopefully whatever circumstance that led to that decision has been resolved. Both Marquette and Villanova continued to win, so moving them up seemed appropriate. Providence on the other hand also too a loss last week (to the A10's Rhode Island), so dropped them behind West Virginia, and moved the 'Eers up. This is unexpected for me. Some had picked WVU to finish fairly high under Coach Huggins, but I confess I was not one of them. That 2 point loss to the #12 Tennessee may not have been a fluke. They continue to be ranked #1 in Pythagorean Winning Percentage on Ken Pomeroy's Stats Page. Their two wins last, a 29 point victory over Auburn (the Big East SEC Challenge) on a (sort of...) neutral court in Alabama followed by a 24 point win over a resurgent Duquesne, add to their resume. Syracuse dropped another game, this time to Rhode Island, who also beat Providence this week. If I were ranking the Rams in this week's poll they would be somewhere around 4 - 5. I dropped the Orange two more spots and moved Notre Dame, who has been munching on low-major pastries lately, but doing handily, and Seton Hall, who admitedly has had problems of their own (a close road loss to Penn State) lately, up. The bottom quartile remains pretty much where it was, though South Florida seems to be making some noise.

Some good performances in winning efforts this week. I decided to vote for Luke Harangody, on the strength of his K State and Northern Illinois games last week. He scored 33 points, and grabbed 26 rebounds in 2 very nice games. I also considered Dominic James, on his 20 point game against Wisconsin. The USF Bull's Dominique Jones dropped another bunch of points (55 to be exact) against Richmond and UAB last week. If Jones keeps this up, and South Florida can work their way into the second or third quartile of the Big East, Jones may find himself in the conversation about Rookie of the Year at the end of the season. How good is Jones really? Only time and more play will tell, but consider that he has put Solomon Bozeman, a promising backcourt player who logged about 75% of the minutes between the #1 and #2 last season, on the bench (Bozeman still gets minutes, but only about 10 per game...), and redshirt freshman Dante Curry, a very well regarded recruit who was slated to compete for a spot this season, has packed his bags and is looking for another school. On the expectation that there will be other weeks for Jones I am going with a fan choice this week in Malcolm Grant, the largely unheralded third member of Villanova's true freshman class. Malcolm scored 18 points in 16 minutes off the bench on Thursday to spark the Wildcat comeback against LSU. Villanova was down 21 points with 8:50 to play when Grant went off. He was 3-4 from beyond the arc and scored 9-10 from the free throw line on a night when the other Wildcats could do no better than 14-24 from the stripe. He also had 2 assists during those 8+ minutes. His 13 points in 3 minutes was a great individual effort. Dante Cunningham's put back with 2.2 (seconds) remaining was the only Nova lead of the night, and came on Grant's only missed shot in that stretch, a runner in the lane. Coach Wright put the ball in his hands on the last timeout in a huge show of confidence. Grant will come off the bench this year for the 'Cats, who have a very stacked backcourt.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Preview -- Temple Owls

The most competitive of the Big 5 rivalries is the Temple Owls and Villanova Wildcats, not as many assume, the "Holy War" or one of the A10 rivalries. To date the record (depending on which program history you check) is either 40-39 (according to Villanova) or 41-40 (according to Temple). Both histories agree that Villanova leads. The source of the different records dates back to the beginning of Temple basketball. The Owls date the origins of their program back to the mid-1890's. In the years before America's entry into World War I the records at Temple show the Owls playing a team from Villanova twice. Once in the 1914-15 season (Temple lost) and once in the 1917-18 season (Temple won). Villanova dates the beginning of their program to 1920-21, a season in which they met the Owls twice (winning both times). The Cats and Owls played home-n-homes nearly annually until 1939, when for reasons not entirely clear, the series (like Penn) went on hiatus until the inauguration of the Big 5 in the mid 1950's. Throughout the life of the series the records have remained relatively close; neither program has held an edge of plus/minus 6 wins over the other. Villanova's ascendence is a relatively recent development. And obviously one that can change quickly based on the fortunes of the two programs...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a C+ and the bench/depth a B-. Brendan Quinn of The Bulletin wrote...

Entering his second season in North Philadelphia, Fran Dunphy returns one of the most dynamic scoring tandems in the nation in senior wing Mark Tyndale (19.4 points per game) and junior guard Dionte Christmas (20.0 ppg). Offense will not be a problem for this season's Owls. Success will begin and end on defense and under the glass.
- Brendan Quinn, "Dunphy, Temple Focused On Defense This Time Around.", 11/7/2007, The Bulletin

The A10 coaches poll projected Temple to finish 9th in the conference, announced at their Media Day event in Atlantic City. Jeff Borzello, a writer for College Hoops Net & blogger for March Madness All Season Blog catagorized the Owls as sleepers in the A10 race, but noted:

...Temple struggled last season and will likely do the same this year, but the Owls have the league’s top two scorers, meaning they will be tough on a nightly basis. Dionte Christmas can light up the scoreboard in a variety of ways, while Mark Tyndale is a tough player to defend and is also a very good rebounder and passer. In addition to those two, Chris Clark returns at the point, with Semaj Inge and Ryan Brooks fighting for minutes on the perimeter...
-- Jeff Borzello, 10/23/2007, "A10 Conference Preview"

Why Everyone Believes...
...The Owls add 6-9 225lb Lavoy Allen to give defenses another threat in addition to Dionte Christmas (junior, 6-5, 205lb) and Mark Tyndale (senior, 6-5, 210lb), considered one of the more dangerous scoring duos in the conference. Temple could always use another scorer, especially one with the size to play inside. And they always have Coach Fran Dunphy, the Dean of the Big 5 coaching fraternity.

So Far...
...Temple comes in with a 4-4 record that began with a three game slide. Their first game, a loss to Tennessee (SEC, 8-1, RPI #80) came on the road. The Owls then travelled to Puerto Rico and lost the first round of the Tip Off Classic to Providence (Big East, 5-3, RPI #3) and the second round to College of Charleston (Southern, 4-3, RPI #151). They have recorded wins against Marist (MAAC, 6-3, RPI #43) Bowling Green (MAC, 4-3, RPI #237) and Ohio University (MAC, 3-2, RPI #66). Their other loss came at the hands of University of Akron (MAC, 5-1, RPI #205). The emphasis on Mid American Conference opponents may be due to the Owls' football affiliation with that Ohio-Kentucky based conference. The Wildcats and Owls share several opponents every year, but since this is a fairly early game they not played any of their common opponents.

Temple By the Numbers...
...Temple's RPI, currently at #54, has fluctuated in a large range, no doubt due to the interaction of the quality of players and retired coach John Chaney's policy to assemble an extremely difficult slate of OOC opponents. The Owls have ranged from #184 (last season, Coach Dunphy's first) to #76 (2004-05), but settling most frequently in the low triple digits. Temple's "Four Factors" via Ken Pomeroy's Temple Scout Page are...

Temple's Four Factors
Temple on...eFG%RnkTO%RnkOR%RnkFR%Rnk

Temple's field goal efficiency (eFG) is a very good 53.7 (#69), but they appear to be vulnerable on ball handling (TO% is 24.0, #240) and rebounding (both, OR% on offense is 32.1, #209), two areas of strength for Villanova's defense. Their defense for shots is just above average (47.8, #109), but they may not get after rebounds (36.2, #257), again an area of strength for Villanova. The rivalry and away atmosphere may mask some of the Owl's problems, but they happen to be areas that Villanova usually excels in.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Freshman Lavoy Allen and junior Sergio Olmos (7-0, 220 lbs) form the nucleus of a frontcourt presence. This pair has started virtually every one of Temple's 8 games this season (Allen has started only 7 games). Of the two frontcourt players Olmos has logged the fewest minutes (<60% of the available PT), most likely due to fouls (he has been DQ'ed twice). Allen's ORtg (110.6, #) is high, but with possesson % at 16.2, Allen benefits at this point from being the Owl's third/fourth offensive option. Coach Wright has started Cunningham consistently over the past 5 games. Dante, along with 4 time starter Casiem Drummond, have been joined by Shane Clark when he is healthy. If Clark is unable to go, look for Coach Wright to start a third guard, though he did opt for redshirt freshman Antonio Pena to start next to Shane Clark while Casiem Drummond sat.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Coach Dunphy has Senior Mark Tyndale joined with wing scoring junior Dionte Christmas (6-5 205 lbs) and "one from Column C" to start the backcourt. Tyndale and Christmas may or may not be wings or sfs, tall guards or short forwards. Of the two Christmas is more likely to take the 3 while Tyndale is more likely to go to the tin. Coach Dunphy has held tryouts for the pg spot, so far junior Semaj Inge (6-4, 180 lbs) and sophomore Luis Guzman (6-3, 180 lbs) have had 4 starts each. Guzman is a bit more efficient as a scorer (though in truth neither is getting starter-level possessions and shots...) and distributes well (ARate is 20.7, good for #436 ranking), while Inge does a better job blocking shots and getting steals. Both turn the ball over far too much for a point. Once the game is rolling Coach Dunphy will sit Olmos or the point and bring in senior Chris Clark (5-8, 165 lbs) or sophomore Ryan Brooks (6-4, 200 lbs). Each has logged between 55.4 to 64.2 percent of the available minutes. Clark is by far the more efficient scorer, but is at best the fourth or fifth option on the floor (when he is on the floor...). Coach Wright can counter with a number of player combinations. So far he has started Redding and Reynolds in every game. That trend may well continue for another 3+ games. Or it might end with this game. Malcolm Grant had a tremendous game versus LSU, pouring in 18 points in the last 12 minutes of play. The 'Cats can use that type of energy from the start of the game. Fisher is also ready, receiving regular minutes and bring some quicklness to the offense.

Final Thoughts
...This is a Big 5 game so anything can happen. On paper this looks like a Villanova "W"...but then so did the LSU game going in. Temple has already taken two pages out of LSU's book on tough losses. Twice. Should Villanova fall behind the Wildcats may find these Owls surprisingly difficult to fluster with a flurry of late game presses and traps. The 'Cats should be able to dominate the Owl frontcourt, which may force Dunphy to keep Olmos in the game longer than he (Dunphy) might want. And the better athletes in the Wildcat's back court should give the wings and the point guard du jeur a proper challenge. But will they play hard (and smart) from the tip off?

Coach Wright continues to look for the best combination he can put on the court. Pena started the LSU game and played 20+ minutes. Win or lose the experimentation will continue with this game, especially if the 'Cats take control early.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Post Game: LSU

Pete over at Let's Go Nova gives an excellent recap of the game and comeback. I disagree with Pete's grade for Malcolm Grant though. Both he and Dante should get A+. Grant put the team on his back and carried them home. It's great to have 4 outstanding guards, isn't it? If one...or two have an offnight, there is always another to step in. And Dante kept his wits about him for that last tap in. Much like the end of the Cincinnati game his freshman year, when he took the inbounds pass from Allan Ray and stuffed it to retake the lead in the last 5 seconds seconds. While Mark over at I Bleed Blue and White gives me a sense of what the Villanova students were doing through the night...I think he was still pretty hammered when he wrote "The Return of Howie" sometime in the wee hours of the morning. Get over to read it quickly, because I suspect it will be (heavily) edited in the next day or two. The breakdown of the box scores by half look something like this:


The game was "evenly" paced between the two halves. Sometimes when there is a huge scoring differential (per team, per half), there is also a large possession difference. The four factors breakdown and efficiencies show a very big first-to-second half swing...

 Offense Defense
FirstSecondTotal FirstSecondTotal
Blk%--22.6 --7.4
Stl%--9.4 --12.3

A few things stand out...
1. The turnaround in Villanova's offensive rating (66.0 to 116.5) was even larger than LSU's collapse (100.7 to 83.9).
2. Villanova got to the free throw line once for every FGA in the second half. But more importantly, they hit their free throws -- note the the 6 fold increase in FTA/FGA, but the tenfold increase in FTM/FGA. LSU did not match those numbers.
3. Note the scoring efficiency didn't improve greatly from the first to the second half (a modest 33-to-36 bump), but the 'Cats brought their offensive boards (25 to 47.8 jump) nearly to parity with the Tigers (very difficult to do, the team on defense almost always leads in defensive rebounds) while conceding only a little on the defensive boards. The Tigers' turnover rate increased pretty sharply. They lost over 1 in 4 of their possessions in the second half.

Ken Pomeroy recently posted an article over at Basketball Prospectus that looked at the problems Temple had at the Tip-Off Classic in Puerto Rico over Thanksgiving. The article, "Temple of Doom", recounted how twice Fran Dunphy's Owls gave away large leads late in the game. According to Pomeroy's tables, a team leading by +11 at half time went on to win the game 90.5% of the time. That was LSU's half time lead last night. Before they ran it out to +21 (at the 8:50 mark of the second half -- just under 9 minutes remaining). Perhaps Pomeroy, who has collected an enormous number of box scores dating back to 2000 will develop a graph to plot the probabilities for leads at different time points. LSU for example, continued to hold a 15 point lead with 3:11 on the clock.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pomeroy Gives Another Lesson in Possession-Based Stats

Ken Pomeroy provides another primer in the system of possession-based developed by Dean Oliver. Pomeroy has applied these stats to analysis of D1 basketball for the past 3+ years. His latest primer, "Interpreting Individual Stats: An Introduction" provides explanations for Offensive Rating (ORtg), an individual's percentage a team's possessions and shots using examples from this season. He also identifies leaders in assist percentage, blocking percentage and turnover percentage.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Preview -- LSU Tigers

The Wildcats and Tigers last met in 1990 Tip Off Classic, played at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield Mass. The 93-90 win by the Rollie Massimino-led Wildcats extracted a very small measure of revenge for the loss that eliminated the 'Cats from the NCAA the previous spring. That Dale Brown-coached squad of Tigers inflicted the only first round loss during the Massimino Era. This will be the overcard match for the Philadelphia edition of the Big East-SEC Challenge. The game will pit two teams that have fixtures in the NCAA field for the past 3 to 4 seasons. Louisiana State made it to the Final Four in 2005-06. Their 4 game series dates back to 1952 when LSU beat a visiting Villanova team in New Orleans 100-94. The series is knotted at 2-2....

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a C+, the frontcourt a B and the bench/depth a C. .

..the Tigers barely finished over .500 and spent March watching tv, reminiscing about one year earlier when they were in the Final Four. Where do they go from here? It is hard to tell, but Coach John Brady has some talent around that can put an end to the rumblings of his ineffective leadership...
- Joel Welser, 2007-08 LAU Basketball Proview, 9/15/07

The Storming the Floor Blog predicted a #4 in the SEC West division, #9 overall finish for the Tigers, while Blue Ribbon Yearbook projected LSU as #6 in the SEC West.

Why Everyone Believes...
...LSU brings in a terrific class this season. Looking for frontcourt replacements for Baby Davis, the Tiger staff landed 6-11 220 bf/c Anthony Randolph to go with Garrett Green a 6-10 220 forward and freshman point guard Bo Spenser, a 6-1 180lb point guard. Marquette transfer Dameon Mason, a 6-5, 190lb guard/forward will use his last year of eligibility with the Tigers.

So Far...
The Tigers journey North with a 5-2 record. Their wins come compliments of SE Louisiana State (Southland, 3-1, RPI #206), McNeese State (Southland, 2-3, RPI #153), Chaminade (DII), Nicholls State (Southland, 1-6, RPI #200) and cross-town rival Southern University (SWAC, 1-4, RPI #224). The 'Cats and Tigers share no opponents this season.

LSU By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years Tigers' have boasted a Top 50 RPI, reaching a high of #7 and dipping to #89 (last season). This season LSU's is ranked #206. LSU is a higher than average pace team this season (73.8 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's LSU Scout Page which ranks the Tigers #45 out of approx. 341 - the current average for pace is around 69.0).

LSU's 4 Factors
LSU on...eFG%RnkTO%RnkOR%RnkFGARnk

LSU's field goal efficiency (eFG) is in the top 10% in D1 at 56.7 (#27) their turnover, rate at 24.7 (#261)is, especially considering the level of competition, suspect. Lack of a legitimate point guard has been an ongoing problem for the Tigers, and the high turnover rate suggests they may be vulnerable to a good press. Given the size of their front line, their OR%, on both offense (33.9, #168) and defense (32.0, #133) is disappointingly low. for shots is a bit suspect (50.7, #191). Both factors are crucial for Villanova, because they are areas of strength for Villanova.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...The Tigers lost forward Tasmin Mitchell to a broken ankle for a minimum of 6-8 weeks (or possibly the season). In addition to the freshmen Anthony Randolph and Garrett Green, Coach Brady has Chris Johnson (center, junior, 6-11 190lb), Quinton Johnson (forward, junior, 6-8 220lb) and transfer Dameon Mason. Freshman Anthony Randolph and junior Chris Johnson have logged the largest block of time in the frontcout so far. Randolph's 25.7 Shot% suggests he is becoming one of the Tiger's early options on offense. With an dFG% of 61.6 and PPWS of 1.26 further indicates he is able to convert possessions into points efficiently. Johnson's Shot% and PPWS (68.6 & 1.45 respectively) suggest he is able to take advantage of the attention paid to Randolph. Coach Wright will split frontcourt minutes among two year starter Dante Cunningham, last season's sixth man Shane Clark and sophomore Casiem Drummond, who gathered 17 rebounds in Villanova's last outing. Whether the staff starts all three will depend on Clark's condition (he pulled a quad in the loss to NCSU and played only 16 minutes) and whether the staff may want to start 3 guards. Their Shot% numbers announce a frontcourt offensive presence is back at Villanova as all three have Shot% in the 20.0-23.0 range. And their scoring remains by and large efficient (see "Player Stats for the First Five Games" for Villanova's possession-based stats). Corey Stokes and Antonia Pena, both of whom saw double digit minutes against Penn, should see minutes against LSU as well.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Coach Brady has looked to 5 players, Garrett Temple (junior, 6-5, 176lbs), Bo Spenser (freshman, 6-1, 180lbs), Terry Martin (junior, 6-6, 203lbs), Alex Ferrer (sophomore, 6-5, 205lbs) and Greg Terrebonne (sophomore, 6-0, 200lbs), to staff the 2 backcourt positions. Temple, Martin and Spencer have split over 90% of the available minutes, leaving blow time PT for Terrebonne and Ferrer. The point guard position has been an ongoing are of concern for Coach Brady who turned to Garrett Temple last season and appears to be breaking in freshman Bo Spencer this season. Temple (Shot% - 14.6) and Spencer (Shot% - 8.5) are not major offensive options, but are efficient when they take their shots (eFG% 57.4 & 70.0 respectively). Those two need to set up LSU's frontcourt options, and both (along with the now-injured Mitchell) have the team's highest assist rates (Temple - 15.3; Spencer - 16.8) on the team. But neither is functioning at Top 500-level. Coach Wright will counter with Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Corey Fisher and Malcolm Grant. Reynolds & Redding have started every game so far and there is no reason to think that will change. Whether Fisher or Grant also start may be a function of how healthy Shane Clark is right now. Clark's health aside however, both will see playing time.

Final Thoughts...
...This game is another test for the Villanova's perimeter defense and frontcourt. Guard Marcus Thornton takes nearly 50% of his FGAs from beyond the 3 point line. He may not be hitting at an especially high rate (20-52, 0.385), but the 'Cats 3 point defense has made quite a few guards, from UCF's Mike O'Donnell, to GMU's Dre Smith, to NCSU's Courtney Fells, to Penn's freshman guard Tyler Bernardini look like world beating sharpshooters. So far the 'Cats have been able to compensate by forcing turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds, both of which have tilted the number of shots (FGAs) fairly strongly in their favor. The same may well happen here as LSU has shown they are vulnerable to turnovers (see TO% on "Offense" above) turnovers and despite the size advantage in their frontcourt, players not especially strong at rebounding. Freshman Anthony Randolph and junior center Chris Johnson provide the Tigers with frontcourt scoring that balances well with their backcourt. Villanova did struggle when faced with similar balance in NCSU. This should be a good test for Cunningham, Drummond, Pena (who had a good game versus Penn) and anyone else the staff plays in the frontcourt.

Coach Wright employed a 12 man rotation for the Penn game, giving 8 of them double digit minutes, even while giving a recuperative rest to Shane Clark. When the games have been close (UCF, GMU, NCSU for example), the staff has employed a smaller rotation (usually 8 or 9, 8 of whom play double digit minutes) consisting of a nucleus of Clark, Cunningham, Drummond, Fisher, Grant, Redding, Reynolds and Stokes. Clark may sit another game, particularly if the staff feels confident the 'Cats can handle LSU without him. The Tiger's, with a relatively young starting lineup and inexperienced point guard (freshman Bo Spencer), have struggled outside the confines of the Maravich Center, going 1-2 in Maui Invitational.