Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Preview -- Rutgers Scarlet Knights

New Jersey has been very very good to Villanova basketball. The state has presented 3 of their last 7 Player of the Year Honorees to The Wildcats. That is more than either Seton Hall and Rutgers combined have attracted (though Rutgers may well correct that next year should St. Anthony's Mike Rosario earn the honor this year). The giving has not been all to Villanova however, as Nova has given Rutgers their current AD, Robert Mulcahey (a Villanova graduate) and their head coach, Fred Hill, a former Associate Head Coach for Jay Wright. So, when Villanova meets Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey at the RAC on Wednesday night, this will be a homecoming of sorts for Rutgers Athletic Administration and for Villanova's latest NJ POY Corey Fisher, wing Corey Stokes and reserve center Frank Tschuisi. It should be a celebration for someone...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Scarlet Knights share several opponents this year:


Neither team has traveled well in the Big East regular season so far, though Villanova's 10 point win over Syracuse last weekend is progress. Rutgers has not done particularly well at home or on the road, having dropped all 6 of their Big East games to date. Rutgers' best win this season is their 11 point home victory over Lafayette (Patriot, 12-6, RPI #135) back on December 5th. The worst of their "bad losses" has to include their 4 point home loss to Rider (MAAC, 13-6, RPI #140) on December 29th, their 23 point road loss to South Florida (Big East, 10-9, RPI #104) to open their Big East season on January 2nd, their 26 point road loss to Providence (Big East, 12-5, RPI #51) on January 9th and their 15 point home loss to Louisville (Big East, 13-5, RPI #43) on January 13th...

Lineups, Rotations...
...With the advent of the Big East season Coach Hill has settled into a 9 man rotation (with exceptions), giving double digit minutes very consistently to 8 (one time 7...) players. Expect to see freshman Mike Coburn (6-0, 195) at the point, with junior Anthony Farmer (6-1, 190) at the #2. Courtney Nelson (6-1, 180), a junior transfer from Richmond who played last season provides depth behind Coburn, Chandler and Farmer. Wings will include probable starter Jaron Griffin (jr, 6-7, 210) with freshman Earl Pettis (6-5, 225) providing Griffin with some relief. Junior pf/bf JR Inman (6-9, 220) will team with sophomore center Hamady N'Diaye (6-11, 235) to man the front court positions. Redshirt senior Byron Joynes (6-9, 265) will provide minutes behind N'Diaye and Inman. Freshman Corey Chandler (6-2, 190), Rutgers biggest get on the recruiting trail last season and another victim of stress fractures in his foot, is working his way back into playing shape and will most likely see double digit minutes at one (or both) of the back court positions. Freshman Justin Sofman (6-4, 210) also an early season casualty to injury and reputed good outside shooter, may see time on the wing.

Coach Wright is still working through his line up possibilities. The stress fracture to Casiem Drummond has dictated a bit more shuffling in the front court than he may have originally anticipated. Through the end of the OOC and the beginning of the Big East season Coach Wright used Reynolds, Fisher, Redding, Clark and Cunningham as his starting five. For the past two games he has gone with Reynolds, one of Fisher or Grant, Shane Clark, Antonio Pena and Cunningham. Scottie Reynolds will start, alongside one of Corey Fisher, Malcolm Grant. I suspect it will be Fisher. This is Villanova's only New Jersey appearance this season, where Fisher was named HS Player of the Year his senior season at St. Patrick's in Elizabeth. And Malcolm Grant started against Syracuse. Reggie Redding will, if past games are an accurate indication, see at least 20 minutes in the back court/wing. Given that Villanova has won those last two games, I have to believe Coach Wright will stay with the front court of Clark, Pena and Cunningham. Who gets N'Diaye is anyone's guess; but I am guessing it will go to Pena, who was assigned DePaul's Wes Green and Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku this past week. Expect to see Dwayne Anderson for at least 10 minutes, again a post Drummond line up development, and also freshman (and St. Benedict's of Newark graduate) Corey Stokes. The time allocations for the front court players will most likely be dictated by circumstances -- who is in foul trouble, who is defending well and who is hot offensively.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
...Within the conference, Rutgers is ranked #16 (last) using possession-based stats and Dean Oliver's 4 factors. Villanova's defense is ranked #10. When the Scarlets have the ball, the (statistical) matchups will look like this:

RU's Off44.231821.918332.719523.4213
VU's Def52.126025.23231.49543.6298

This might be the third or fourth straight poor field goal shooting Big East team Villanova has faced so far. Whether Coach Hill will try to exploit Nova's perimeter defense may be one of those factors that turns the game. Earlier in the season the "Flying Wildcat" perimeter defense made George Mason and NCSU's perimeter offense look awfully good. Like Syracuse, Rutgers in turn has largely abandoned their long range shooting; they take fewer than 3 in 10 FGAs from beyond the arc and hit at an appalling 29.4% rate. If that shot is coming, it will most likely be launched by Jaron Griffin, JR Inman or Corey Chandler (in that order). In fact if any shot is coming it will most likely come from one of those three. Inman, Griffin and Chandler form a triad that is responsible for nearly 75% of Rutgers' possessions and over 80% of their shots (when all three play simultaneously). According to Ken Pomeroy's Rutgers Scouting Report Page, none of those three has an offensive rating (ORtg%) above 98, a very bad sign given they are Coach Hill's designated "main options" on offense. The most efficient player on offense surprisingly enough, is Anthony Farmer, a converted point guard who spent his first two years as a Knight distributing the ball to Quincy Douby, Marquis Webb, Jaron Griffin and JR Inman. Chandler moved Farmer to the #2 early this season, and when Chandler was injured Hill brought Mike Coburn in to take the ball handling and leave Farmer in the off guard slot to take shots. Farmer is drawing about "regular starter" type touches and shots. Rebounding will be a good match up area for the two squads. N'Diaye and Joynes have been very good at getting RU's misses. Unfortunately Hill can only play one of them at a time. Dante Cunningham has "Top 500" ranking as a defensive rebounder. Anderson and Pena have those level numbers as well, but are not ranked for lack of PT. An area of strength for Villanova is turnovers. Rutgers by contrast is not especially turnover prone, though they have had their moments (against Louisville and later DePaul for example, when the Scarlet Knights lost about 25% of their possessions). Villanova is ranked very low (#298) when it comes to allowing the other team get to the line. The principal offenders are Cunningham, Drummond (when he is healthy), Pena and Clark (largely due to guarding the other team's #4?), but Rutgers does not appear to be in a position to exploit this vulnerability.

The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Scarlet Knights' defense:

VU's Off51.212919.04238.52929.541
RU's Def47.58319.627634.020526.725

When Villanova has the ball things could get very interesting, because this is Rutger's stronger area (as offense is with Villanova -- "Flying Wildcats" on this side of the ball is a good thing...). Rutgers defends the shot reasonably well. This may be, along with care not to foul, be the strongest area of their game, on either side of the ball. As the numbers suggest, Villanova has been able to compensate for poor FGA shooting by not turning the ball over (making the most of their opportunities) and rebounding misses. If the 'Cats miss however only N'Diaye, Joynes and Inman get after rebounds. The rest of the squad is almost indifferent to rebounding. By contrast Nova can count on Cunningham, a Top 500 offensive rebounder (according to Ken Pomeroy's Villanova Scouting Report Page). Behind him there is Shane Clark (also Top 500), Dwayne Anderson, Malcolm Grant and Pena. A healthy Cas Drummond would dominate the boards in this game.

Want to Beat Scarlet Knights? Then...
1. Defend the shot. This is one of 2 strong indicators for Rutgers. When RU's eFG% is kept below 42.0% the Knights go 1-8. Ironically a great shooting day does not necessarily guarantee a win. Their best combined shooting day to date, a 70.2% effort against DePaul still resulted in a 2 point loss.
2. Dominate their backboard. One of the strongest win/loss indicators for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights will miss shots, don't give them a second chance. RU's record when they get <33.3% of their misses is 1-8. This is also a marker for Villanova -- when the 'Cats fail to rebound more that 33.3% of their opponent's misses they go 2-2.
3. Force turnovers. Of the 13 games in which Rutgers lost 20.0% or more of their possessions they are 4-9.
4. Value the ball. Forcing turnovers (or the failure to force turnovers) can be a problem for the Knights as well. When RU's opponents lose fewer than 21.0% of their possessions, the Knights go 4-8.

...The question is which Wildcat team will show up? The one that went to DePaul and Cincinnati? Those Wildcats let the home team jump out to a double digit lead early, nurse that lead well into the second half and let the home crowd (not to mention the home team...) get very excited at the prospects of beating a Top 25 team. Or will it be the team that traveled to the Carrier Dome last weekend? That Wildcat team attacked Syracuse's zone through penetration, drew fouls from Greene and Flynn and eventually put both on the bench. That team got after their misses and challenged the Orange's interior players. They lived at the line in the second half, silenced the crowd and took away a 10 point win.

1 comment:

VUhoops.com said...

Another great preview. I'm just in awe how you consider and analyze some of these stats... This game preview's esoteric, but most fun, stat for us is: about Rutger's win% when they get more than a third of their misses. How do you even think to look for that?

Good stuff.