Monday, July 7, 2008

Thoughts on Villanova's 2009 Big East Match-ups

I ran across a simple comparison method used by the bloggers over at Cracked Sidewalks to quickly analyze Marquette's Big East slate for next season (thereby declaring the Warriors had a favorable schedule...). The Big East Report Blog used a similar method which created a conference-wide average for the schedules, and individual "scores" for each team...
1. Divide the Big East into quartiles (1st -- top, 2nd -- with 1st that makes "upper division", 3rd -- 9 through 12 finishers and 4th -- 13 through 16 finishers).
2. The quartiles (with your own team in place) will give a hint as to how to triage the conference. There are those teams you won't beat, either at home or on the road (top level); those teams you won't lose to (bottom level -- ha ha, we saw how that worked last season...); those teams which you can most likely beat if you played them at home.
3. Factor the mirror (home-n-away) series games/opponents. The conference generally tries to allocate a top, middle and bottom level opponent to each team. While considering historical rivalries, television revenues and strength of schedule for both top and bottom level teams. In past off seasons the conference coaches were asked about where they thought their teams would place in the conference and where other teams might place.
While a number of very early preseason conference rankings have been published at virtually all of the electronic media sites covering D1 basketball, the consensus appears to be that few (any?) teams will move up or down even a quartile over where they finished, going into next season.

Based on last season's regular season finish, the quartile breakdown looks like this (alpha order within quartile):
First Quartile -- Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame.
Second Quartile -- Marquette, Pittsburgh, Villanova, West Virginia.
Third Quartile -- Cincinnati, Providence, Seton Hall, Syracuse.
Fourth Quartile -- DePaul, Rutgers, St. John's, South Florida.

Of course an injury, late hire/fire staff shakeup and academics, etc. can significantly change any team's roster or staff, and that in turn can affect how they perform next season. The latest round (post NBA draft) of preseason &quor;rankings" project between 1 - 3 Big East teams in the Top 10, 4 - 6 in the Top 20 and something like 7 - 9 in the Top 25 to Top 50. It is always the same 7 - 9 teams, and individually each appears to be a contender for a spot in the NCAA field next March.

Villanova's match-ups are:
Home -- Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and St. John's.
Away -- Connecticut, DePaul, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, South Florida and West Virginia.
Mirror Series -- Marquette, Providence and Syracuse.

The Triage Philosophy posits that a team wants the games it is virtually certain to win, and those it is certain to lose to be played on the road, thereby applying home court advantage to those games where it may tip the balance.

Applying that theory to the home match-ups suggests the home court advantage may be best applied to 4 of the 6 opponents. Villanova has had home success recently against Georgetown, Louisville and Pittsburgh, while losing on the road to each of them last season. The Georgetown game was evenly matched until (literally) the last second of regulation. Villanova split last season with Pittsburgh (taking the home game, losing on the road) and has held serve against some challenging Cardinal teams over the past 4 seasons. Rutgers and St. John's appear to be misplaced. I suspect most Nova fans would feel confident (no doubt this will bring a snicker or two from Scarlet Knight fans) about beating those teams on the road. Cincinnati beat Villanova in Fifth Third last season, in one of the most physical games the Wildcats played. With another brutally large front court contingent ready to play this season, the Bearcats may be a good team for the Pavilion. So it appears 4 of the 6 games are "advantageously placed".

If certain/virtually certain wins and losses belong on the road, then the news is good, as it appears that 4 of the 6 match-ups fall into that category. Villanova, despite a good deal of fan confidence, has won only 1 of the last 3 Joyce Center meetings (that one on a last possession tip in by Kyle Lowry, during Notre Dame's "unlucky season"). Notre Dame beat Villanova in Philadelphia last season. The Irish lost Rob Kurz from a team that finished 4th in the conference and won 14 conference games. On paper at this point in the preseason, that looks like a loss to me no matter where it is played. Wins appear to be in the offering at South Florida and Seton Hall, again irrespective of location. That leaves Connecticut, DePaul and West Virginia to resolve. UConn appears to be a consensus #1/#2 finisher in the conference, which I weigh against Villanova's 3-1 record versus the Huskies in the past 3 seasons. While definitely blessed with a very athletic front court, they did not quite know how to use that advantage effectively against the Wildcats. I don't know if the UConn squad has progressed enough to take a game in Philadelphia, though I suspect if the preseason evaluations are true, they could take a Storrs-based (or possibly even a Hartford) game versus the Wildcats. DePaul has struggled with conference opponents in 3 of the 4 seasons they have been members of the Big East. But Villanova has lost twice in the Rosemont Arena over the past 2 seasons. They should win this season, but then I said that last season too. Villanova beat West Virginia in the Pavilion late last season. But historically they have struggled in the Coliseum, even against some mediocre Catlett and Beilein teams. Huggins will field a pretty solid team next season. I'd rather see them in Philadelphia.

Villanova's mirror series will be with Marquette, Providence and Syracuse. Marquette finished in the second quartile last season (5th seed going into the Big East Tournament), while Syracuse finished tied with Villanova and took 9th seed in the BET. Providence was the last team "invited" to New York City, finishing with a 12th seed. The schedule-maker seems to have put aside the top-middle-bottom approach in favor of 3 possibly very even matchups. Another oddity (and I am not sure, should it truly be an advantage...) is that the head coaches at Marquette and Providence are new. Buzz Williams over at Marquette has had, as an Assistant Coach, a single run through the Big East. Let's hope he was taking notes. Williams also has a single season of experience as a head coach (at New Orleans in CUSA). Though on the job less than 2 monthes he has completed his staff and signed several recruits for the class of 2009. MU will bring a senior-led squad to play next season. Taken together, Marquette may not step back far (if at all? -- a number of major web sites list Marquette above Villanova in preseason rankings, often placing Marquett in the Top 15) with the changing of the guard. Providence also brings a senior-heavy squad under the direction of Keno Davis. Davis has a single season of head coaching experience at Drake, and appears to have a position or two still open at Providence. Recruiting has also lagged a bit as Davis has adjusted to the conference and change of scene. The transition may not go as smoothly for the Friars. And the third oddity of the mirror series is Syracuse. The Orange and Wildcats have been "mirror-matched" every season since the Big East expanded. If someone paired me 3 times in a row with someone I would have to think they are match-making. I wonder if there is not some thinking along those lines going on in the conference offices (and maybe at Syracuse and Villanova too?). The record for those three series is 4 - 2 Wildcats. Villanova swept Syracuse in 2005-06, holding serve in 2006-07 and having a somewhat crazy reversal last season. The Wildcats won in the Dome, but dropped the home game. Gaining a sweep with any of those 3 will be very important, though not, on paper, likely if the opponent were truly drawn from the group that will pretty clearly finish in the same quartile (or close to it) as Villanova. Any sweep would be important not only to establish more conference wins and enhance the team's place in the standings, but a sweeep against an opponent most likely to finish in the same quartile would also gain a clear tie-breaker advantage over that team...and work to push the team (downward) out of the quartile.

On the whole I believe these match-ups will work to Villanova's advantage come Big East play.

1 comment: said...

Wow- very interesting stuff. We are never surprised w/ the different stats that you look at.

Very good info here!