Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Post Game: Pittsburgh

If you did not catch the game recap with player grades ("Villanova Edges #13 Pitt") over at Let's Go Nova or the two, more personal reactions ("Hell Yeah" and "View from the Student Section") over at I Bleed Blue and White, you should. They have done a wonderful job recounting individual and team exploits, efforts I would not dream of trying to match. I thought I would break down the box score a little though, and see how the team did with a few areas I and others have touched on several times this season. During the Nova Nation's celebration of the win a few fans noted that while much has been rightly made about freshman Malcolm Grant's heroics in energizing the offense during the second half, perhaps too little was made of junior Dante Cunningham's free throws with 10 seconds left that put Villanova ahead for the last time. Free throws (and fouls) throughout the second half, as the breakdown (below) demonstrates, had a significant impact on the course and outcome of the game. This was a "weird win", similar to a number of Villanova's victories over the past three seasons:

Offense Defense
1st2ndTotal 1st2ndTotal

As the numbers suggest, neither team was particularly efficient (offensively) in the first half. Watching the game, I had the sense that this was devolving into a rock fight. Villanova's offensive efficiency, 90.2, was one of the poorer first half performances this season, but the Wildcats went into the locker room with a tie, largely because Pitt's offensive efficiency, 85.0, was even worse than the Wildcats. The play-by-play announcer tracked the Panther's extremely high turnover rate, largely by counting and comparing the mounting total to Pitt's yearly average. The TORate (highlighted in yellow above) reinforces the point. Pittsburgh ended nearly 4 in 10 1st half possessions via a turnover and not with a field goal attempt or free throw. Pittsburgh was tied with Villanova at the half because they shot better than Villanova and rebounded their misses. Those two areas compensated for the horrific turnover rate. Villanova was tied with Pittsburgh at the half because they shot very poorly and did not rebound their misses effectively (one and done). Both teams made adjustments at the half, and Pitt came out with an even better eFG% in the second half, cut their turnovers and maintained (at least) parity on the offensive boards. Villanova's eFG% barely improved, but the 'Cats continued to take care of the ball and did a better job of rebounding, both offensively and defensively. The margin of victory however, came at the free throw line. The Wildcats hit the line at a rate slightly better than 1 per 2 FGAs. Villanova took 15 FTAs to Pittsburgh's 4. Dante's game ending free throws were a quiet symbol of the Wildcat's 2nd half effort.

When looking at why a team wins a particular game I can usually look no farther than shooting percentages (2 & 3 point shooting percentages, eFG% and PPWS), Offensive and Defensive Ratings and maybe offensive rebounding. One team usually does those three better than the other, and that largely accounts for how that team won. I suggested the Pitt victory was weird earlier because the Wildcats won but did not out perform Pitt in those crucial areas. Villanova was able to (severely) limit Pitt's scoring opportunities by forcing turnovers (see Stl% under defense in addition to the turnover rates), while maximizing their own opportunities by not losing the ball. Given the loss of Levance Fields, coupled with Ramon's lingering injuries (and Wanamaker's lack of experience), this strategy makes even more sense. Villanova attacked the offensive and defensive glass in the second half and that in part translated into more trips to the line. Ultimately 28% of Villanova's scoring came from free throws. That is pretty high and characteristic of teams like Connecticut which are agressive and very skilled defensively. If Dante's free throws can be a thumbnail sketch of Villanova's winning efforts, it should be coupled with Ron Ramon's turnover in Pitt's last possession.

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