Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mia Culpa, Mia Maxima Culpa

Due Diligence...
Before developing my projections for this season, I think it would be best, equal parts act of contrition and caveat emptor, to review my projections from last season. You will then know how seriously to take my preview of this season. As you might recall, rather than try to predict an exact ranking for each team, I thought I would start out by trying to place the teams by quartiles (first, second, third and fourth). An alphabitized list of the teams, their record (conference wins & losses only), their seed in the BET, where (by quartile) they actually finished where and where (by quartile) I projected they would finish. Yeah, there is an ugly patch or two...

2007-08 ActualProj.
Notre Dame1440.778213
Seton Hall7110.3891133
St. John's5130.2781444
South Florida3150.1671544
West Virginia1170.611623

The worst miss was Notre Dame, especially grievious considering Coach Brey's squad finished with a 24-8 record (11-5 in conference) in 2006-07. I had the Fighting Irish fading to somewhere between #9 and #12, instead of muscling their way into the ranks of the conference elites, tying for #2 (with Louisvlle) at end of of the conference regular season, and locking up the 2nd seed in the BET with a tie-breaker over the Cardinals. Wow, I badly underestimated the talent Coach Brey has assembled in South Bend. And I really did not think Luke Harangody would follow a very solid, All-Big East Rookie Team freshman year with a Big East POY sophomore season. Mike Brey managed to couple his potent offense with another "just enough" defensive effort. The Irish still need to overcome their post season jitters/lack of experience. When they do, Coach Brey will no doubt get some well deserved recognition for his offense. Virtually my entire third quartile was wrong, though I did tab West Virginia as a team that had a good chance to move up (they ended up ranked #6, good for a spot in the 2nd quartile) and Seton Hall as most likely to move down (they did, finishing with a #14 rank, firmly ensconced in the 4th quartile). Passable I guess, if you ignore the fact that Notre Dame jumped an entire quartile. Oh well.

I'm sort of pretty good...
That I managed to do well in the first and fourth quartiles demonstrates that really good and really bad teams are easy to identify. Rutgers was every bit as bad as predicted (except on the night of January 23 darn them), while St. John's proved to be a bit more resilient than DePaul. If Notre Dame was the a miss as a top quartile conference pick, none of my first quartile finishers landed lower than the second quartile (Marquette), and all of my "fours" finished in the cellar or one quartile away (again just one school -- St. John's). Did I overestimate the offensive capabilities of the Three Amigos? Or maybe underestimate the value of a dominant center. Those who have followed Villanvoa basketball over the Coach Wright Era know the Wildcats have muddled through a season or two without a game changer in the middle. That may again be the challenge for the Warriors and their rookie (to the Big East anyway) head coach Buzz Williams as potential game changer Trevor Mbakwe transferred suddenly at the end of August.

I did manage to control my impulse to engage in some boosterism, and placed the Wildcats in the 2nd quartile for my preseason projection. The expectations ran wild in the Nova Nation last fall as many anticipated instant stardom for the two Coreys and the debut of undervalued Antonio Pena. As it turned out Stokes struggled early while Fisher struggled late. And Pena had a very decent, but not Harangody-level, rookie season among the Big East bigs. The 'Cats were a very young team and they played that way through the middle part of the season.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

2008-09 Preview -- Villanova Previews

I wandered over to the magazine stand the other night as I waited for the deli girl to make my sandwhich. I scanned the racks for a 2008-09 season preview...from anyone. I realized I had not looked for a magazine preview in (4? 5?) years. True The Blue Ribbon Yearbook, by sheer dent of the information provided, leaves the competition far behind. And with the debut of their College Basketball Prospectus 2008-09 this month, John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy simultaneously satisfy my need for numbers and pithy commentary. I pushed aside the Maxims, the Family Circles and Redbooks, looking for an Athlon or a Lindy's or maybe a TSN. My old favorite was Smith and Street. They also provide "total coverage" for D1 teams. Every team, every conference...with a bit of recruiting too. I did manage to find a college football preview or two, but aside from a Slam "preview article" nothing about college basketball. I settled for a Rolling was the internet I decided. I don't hunt relentlessly for these printed copies because I can pre-order my Blue Ribbon (and Basketball Prospectus for that matter) and have them delivered (it felt like Christmas too, they were delivered on the same day). And the plethora of team previews I can find online. As for Villanova team previews, I guess the virtue of being a Top 50 or so team is that everyone wants to write about you. Below are a compilation of 2008-09 previews of the Wildcats:

SportingNews307Mike DeCourcy's preview
Fox Sports196?Jeff Goodman's work.
CHN307Joel Welser's "144..." Preview
Rivals176Bob McClellan, basketball editor
HOOPSWORLD.com175Yannis Koutroupis' preview
CBS Sportsline167Gary Parrish's preview.
Blue Ribbon227Mike Waters, Syracuse beat writer for the Post-Standard

Notes & Observations...
1. True to his roots, Mike DeCourcy slots 4 Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Purdue, Wisci & Ohio State), to go with two arguably appropriate choices -- Marquette and Memphis, and less arguably appropriate Xavier and Creighton. Toss in Ohio River valley perennials Pittsburgh and Louisville. DeCourcy's lack of regard for the super-sized Big East dates back to his column that marked the inauguration of the 16 member conference in 2005. He wrote it was a loser then, and every year he does his best to minimize the conference's standing.

2. Rutger beat writer and long-time follower of Big East basketball Jerry Carino noted his own "Media Day" rankings for his Hoops Heaven Blog last Wednesday. Carino ranks Villanova #4 with the comment "Will be fun to watch". I hope so Jerry.

3. Gary Parrish repeats the same mistake he made last season -- too many BE teams "clustered" in the Top 20. Six teams in the Top 20 (or Top 25) I can believe, but Parrish slots a BE team every 2.3 ranks...

4. Sports New York writer and Big East blogger Adam Zagoria, like Jerry Carino, published his own "Media Day" rankings for his blog, site. Zags ranked Villanova #8. While Zagoria did provide a little commentary (in the form of a self-imposed Q&A...) he provided no explanation (or pithy comments) on his rankings.

5. The Northwestern Wins Blog projects Villanova as #8 in the Big East. They did their research, as evidenced by the lengthy preview.

6. East Coast Bias Blog ranked the 'Cats #7 but wrote "...this is the pick that’s going to bite me in the rear - they could be lower, they could be higher..." and cites a few examples of upside and downside.

7. The Big East site has an official team preview of Villanova too. The Big East coaches' composite poll ranked the Wildcats #5.

8. The NBE Basketball Report Blog ranked Villanova #7 (a somewhat popular spot for many bloggers...) in their annual preview.

9. Link for the Blue Ribbon projection points to an ESPN web page article about a collarboration between Blue Ribbon and EA on EA's 2009 version of their D1 basketball video game. Links to specific Blue Ribbon previews will most likely be subscriber-only available. And rolled out over the next 3 weeks.

10. The consensus ranks Villanova at #6/#7, the outliers go as high as #5 and as low as #8. Which puts the Wildcats in the second quartile, pretty much where I have placed them. I suspect East Coast Bias blogger said what many of the others think (and I put myself in that group) but are afraid to write/say -- the 'Cats are a squad that could go either way -- up a quartile or down a quartile, depending on how the sophomores progress. And whether Drum and Shane stay healthy and contribute. A status quo (with last year) season effort would put the 'Cats back on the bubble, but without the attention-grabbing losses and with a weaker set of SOS-type credentials, Nova may find a less sympathetic Selection Committee in March 2009.

11. Even with a fairly broad consensus on Villanova's Big East standing, I think it's a bit curious the national rankings vary so widely. Modest exceptions noted, the MSM was bi-polar on their attitude on the Big East. Ranking Villanova #16/#17 or #30 had less to do with the analyst's attitude towards the Wildcats and more to do with their attitude towards the Big East.

Hoops Mania -- Nova Blogosphere Dissed!

Those members of the Nova Nation looking for some blogosphere coverage of Villanova's Hoops Madness won't, at this hour anyway, find it among the Nova hoops blogging fraternity. I did run across this coverage at the Rush the Court Blog. The bloggers over there were not especially circumspect about our lack of coverage either, bragging they had scooped three of Villanova's more popular sites. I prefer to think the Nova contingent was out cheering on the Villanova football team, which lost to #1 ranked (D1-AA) JMU this afternoon 23-19 on literally the last play of the game. Those waiting for pictures will have to do with a Rush the Court shot of the team dancing (having originated at the official athletics web site, it is also displayed on the VUsports' "Bench Warmers" messageboard thread) and a short (cell phone quality?) video of Shane Clark exiting the white stretch limo the team used as their "entrance vehicle" during the festivities. Clearly the students were pumped and by all reports, were happy with the music.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A New Blog:  The Big Beast

While looking over some recent posts at Jerry Carino's Hoops Heaven Blog I saw a reference to a new member of the blogging fraternity -- The Big Beast Blog. The bloggers, three current and former Rutgers students, collaborate to provide coverage and commentary on New Jersey and metropolitan New York City sports. Best of luck guys!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2008-09 Media Day Notes

The Big East coaches ranked Villanova #5 in their preseason poll, released today as part of the Big East Conference's Media Day coverage for men's and women's basketball. The Big East coaches poll, an exercise that has not been particularly strong as a predictor of season performance over the past few years, ranked Connecticut #1 and South Florida #16. The poll (reproduced):

1Connecticut (9)214
2Louisville (3)205
3Pittsburgh (3)200
4Notre Dame (1)195
9West Virginia121
13Seton Hall50
14St. John's44
16South Florida26

Connecticut's ranking is not surprising, Andy Katz and others at ESPN have been hinting at the lofty ranking for several weeks now. The first four teams each received at least one vote, and Notre Dame (#4, 195) collected only 19 fewer votes than Connecticut (#1, 214), suggesting the coaches are as divided as the conferences' fans (and the MSM) about who will win the regular season crown. Unlike prior years however it appears the coaches have developed a consensus that Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame are all good candidates for the honor. Villanova topped a second tier of schools that includes Marquette, Georgetown, Syracuse and West Virginia. The next "plateau" holds Providence and Cincinnati, neatly isolated from the teams above and the teams that form the last tier. And I suppose that is as it should be. Conference-watchers and Friar fans have watched as the class of McDermott, Curry, Efejuku and Kale grow from freshmen to seniors, taking Providence out of the conference's lowest tier. How much farther can they go? The same could asked about Mick Cronan's Cincinnati squad. Are they ready make a move? Rutgers looks almost out of place in the #12 slot. But consider the voting again. The Scarlet Knights, like Villanova in the #5 slot, appear to have taken the rank almost by default; the others they a clustered with (Seton Hall, St. John's, DePaul and South Florida) are liked a little less than the Knights. If South Florida escapes the cellar this season at least 13, possibly 14 coaches will be surprised.

Among the individual honors bestowed, 's Luke Harangody was (re)named the POY. Employing the "Noah's Ark" approach to the preseason All Big East team, one of each from the top eight teams (according to the Coaches Poll...) was named to the squad. Scottie Reynolds was Villanova's designated representative. In accordance with their status as preseason #1, Connecticut had two players, Hasheem Thabeet and AJ Price, named to the squad. The outlier this time was Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn; an excellent choice given his progress last season, but where was Dominique Jones? Old reliables Dominc James, Earl Clark and Jeff Adrien were given Honorable Mention nods. In a mild surprise Georgetown's Greg Monroe, a much heralded recruit whose reputation took a modest hit over the past year, was named co-ROY with Louisville's Samardo Samuels.

The official Media Day page contains links to a preview for each team. The link for Villanova's preview is here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Big East Roster Notes -- Updated2

Player news seems to come faster as the season approaches...

Louisville wing Terrence Williams went down with a tear in his medial meniscus, according to published reports on ESPN and elsewhere. Expect surgery to repair the tear (per a Coach Pitino interview) within 2 - 3 days, followed by a 4 - 6 week recuperation. Pick-up game injuries have been the bane of the Cardinal program. Since joining the Big East Louisville has lost Telo Palacios (twice), Andre McGee and David Padgett (twice) to pick-up game injuries. How good the 2006 team could have been is arguable, but their prospects were definitely hurt by the diminished play (due to injury) of Palacios and Padgett. While the prognosis is that Williams will be cleared to play around New Years, and his absence should have little or no effect on the Cardinal's OOC play, I wonder if he will be able to step into the role he (and the staff) made for him over the past two seasons. His athleticism and size add significantly to his versatility, a big part of the value he brings to the team. Diminished mobility (lateral especially) reduces his value to Louisville's offense. This development, particularly if recovery is less than 100%, can affect the Cardinal's prospects this season.

Michael Glover, an undersized front court player who has been trying to qualify (academically) at Seton Hall will definitely not suit up for Coach Bobby Gonzalez this season as his lawsuit against the NCAA and Big East was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this week. Glover's lawsuit, his latest effort to overturn the Clearinghouse's decision not to accept his credits from a private high school, was considered by consensus, a longshot at best (and a waste of everyone's time at worst). Glover would have added depth to the Pirate front court (and bench), but the Hall's staff was not planning an offense around him. Eligibility for transfer guard Keon Lawrence (waiver application was filed early this week) and freshman center Melvyn Oliver (yet to have transcript cleared by the NCAA) are still to be resolved. Lacking Oliver, the Pirates have seven scholarship players going into the season. Worst case for the Pirates will be to suit six scholarship players for the Puerto Rico Tipoff game against USC.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Big East Roster Notes -- Updated

According to Jerry Carino's Hoops Haven Blog, Seton Hall transfer Herb Pope's request for a waiver from the transfer rule was denied as of Monday October 13.

Pope transferred in from New Mexico State on the hope he could play for the Pirates this season. While Seton Hall will appeal the initial decision, the prospects appear (even) bleak(er). The best indication Coach Bobby Gonzalez holds little hope for success on Pope's appeal comes via his intent to apply for Keon Lawrence's waiver immediately. The Hall did not want both appeals before the committee at the same time. Consensus held that Lawrence's waiver had a better chance than Pope's.

Carino speculates that Pope may pass on the Hall and investigate professional opportunities in Europe next. Right now it appears that the Pirate's will go into the 2008-09 season with very few options available in the front court. If Lawrence is cleared to play this season he will help the back court.

Cincinnati recruit John Riek, a 7-2 center out of the IMG Academy in Florida has not achieved the necessary SAT(?) scores to enter Cincinnati this semester. According to Jeff Goodman's Good 'n Plenty Blog posting of 10/13 (Monday), Riek will remain in Florida as he continues to attempt to qualify. Plans are to have him up in Cincinnati by the end of the fall semester.

The Bearcats are loaded up front with sophomore Anthony McClain expected to split time with transfer Steven Toyloy, and bfs senior transfer Mike Williams, sophomore Kenny Belton and freshmen Yancy Gates. Head Coach Mick Cronan has a good many options in the paint even as Riek works to get himself ready academically and physically.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Big East Roster Notes

With classes in session for a month or so, and Midnight Madness a fortnight away, it seems a good time to catch up on the roster changes that have occured since the schools first released them in late July-early August. For the past 4+ seasons (fans of Louisville, Syracuse and Villanova will no doubt hunt me down if anything happens between now and November 14...), injuries tended to drive last minute roster changes. Not so (so far) this off season. Discipline and academics appear to be running neck-and-neck as the culprits...
Cincinnati -- Forward Nick Aldridge was dismissed from the program after his arrest for drug trafficking on September 17. Aldridge, a well regarded transfer out of Western Carolina who sat last season per the NCAA transfer requirements, would have faced a good deal of competition for playing time from senior Mike Williams (transfer from Texas, former MDAA) and sophomore Kenny Belton, had he not been derailed with legal problems. The Bearcats added 7-1 center John Riek in early August. Riek, while listed on the "official" roster, has yet to be cleared to play by the NCAA.
Connecticut -- Nate Miles was expelled last week. Miles a very well regarded but (as a high school bballer) much traveled student, signed an LOI for the Huskies back in 2006 and had worked to clear Connecticut admissions standards (and NCAA clearing house requirements) virtually all of last season. He started summer classes back in June, but ran afoul of a court order in early September. Desipite entering an early intervention program as mandated by a hearing Tuesday, the UConn administration convened an administrative hearing Thursday, and after hearing from each of the parties, decided to expel him. Mile's guardian promises an appeal, but it looks like Miles will never suit up for Coach Calhoun. Ater Majok's uncertain academic status (he returned to Australia in early August to "finish up" his classes), combined with the Miles expulsion and Stanley Robinson's continued absence (taking courses locally, but is not enrolled at UConn for the Fall 2008 semester), cloud Connecticut's prospects. Coach Calhoun's 2008-09 squad has heretofore been consistently listed among the 5 - 10 best in D1 going into the season. But the UConn faithful have to wonder if Dyson, Price and Walker can shoulder virtually the entire PT responsibilities for the #1, #2 and #3 with a very short bench.
Marquette -- Trevor Mbakwe's sudden withdrawal in late August (transferred to Miami-Dade?) was the second off season blow to Warrior fans. Losing head coach Tom Crean to Indiana was bad enough, but losing their most promising prospect to man the middle since Ryan Amoroso donned the Blue and Gold back in 2006 really hurts. Freshman Chris Otule may be forced to log even more PT than originally planned. And first year head coach Buzz Williams will have to fashion a makeshift front line out of Lazar Hayward, senior Dwight Burke and transfer #3s Joe Fulce and Jimmy Butler.
Rutgers -- Senior forward JR Inman and senior forward Jaron Griffin have been suspended for an indeterminate number of games. The suspensions, announced by Coach Fred Hill in early September, were for non-academic, non-basketball related offenses. According to the Courier-News Rutgers beat writer Jerry Carino, the suspensions will be for games only and will most likely last for no more than three weeks. With the recent influx of talent Griffin, a starter in 57 games at the #3 over his career as a low percentage 3 point shooter (.256), would most likely have moved into a supporting role this season. Inman, a starter from virtually his first game as a freshman drew Coach Hill's wrath at the end of last season for lacking "heart". Hill has repeatedly challenged Inman to step up and be the Scarlet Knight's leader. The suspension is a setback for Inman, and will force a very young team to (yet again) search for leadership early in the season.
Seton Hall -- 6-3 #2 guard Jamel Jackson was denied admission in late September. Jackson, a junior college transfer out of Technical Career Institute, needed transfer 27 credits to be eligible fell 1 course short when Seton Hall denied transfer credit for two courses he took over the summer (a C- in one and an D in the other). The news reduces the Pirate roster to eight scholarship players going into the season, assuming freshman center Melvyn Oliver (Long Beach California, out of Mississippi Elite Christian Academy) is cleared by the NCAA. In a true "When It Rains, It Pours" moment Seton Hall AD announded that sophomore Robert "Stix" Mitchell, a 6-6 wing forward transfer out of Duquesne, would serve a two game suspension for a minor NCAA transgression he committed while sitting out last season.
South Florida -- Justin Leemow, a post-grad player out of Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C was signed in the middle of August. Leemow was rated the 110th best recruit in NYC as a junior. He will join an incoming class that includes guard Gabriel Belardo, center Augustus Gilchrist, forward Eladio Espinosa and junior college transfer center Alex Rivas Sanchez. #2 guard Mike Mercer, a transfer from Georgia who was arrested for public drinking back on September 9 will be eligible to join the team at the end of December. The Bulls roster has been depleted this off season, equal parts graduation and transfer, but Leemow will most likely see (very) limited minutes this season, especially if Mercer joins the team as expected, for the Big East season and freshman phenom Dominique Jones stays healthy throughout the season.

Connecticut, rated as high as #2 in some of the early 2008-09 previews has a number of uncomfortable roster questions to resolve going into the season. As of May the most vexing question was the speed and degree of AJ Price's ACL rehabilitation. But academics and the law have virtually wiped out the small forward position over the summer (and early fall). Granted the Huskies have enough talent to cover between junior reserve Gavin Edwards and converted guards Craig Austrie, Jerome Dyson and AJ Price. Freshman Kemba Walker will have to man the point (possibly?) a bit earlier than anticipated, but going into the more physical Big East season, Price's durability and Austrie's and Dyson's stamina may be more severely tested than the staff anticipated. Getting Stanley Robinson eligible for the spring might become the staff's highest priority over the next 3 months. Seton Hall has been pleagued by depth issues every one of Coach Gonzalez's three seasons. Pirates fans watched the team fade in February each of the last two seasons, unable to preserve early (conference) season high rankings as Big East play ground those teams down by February. The Hall is, at this point, the only Big East team to have accepted high quality transfers in the latter part of the off season. Adding both Herb Pope and Keon Lawrence would certainly represent a talent upgrade. But the odds of getting both is very small.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Villanova in Hi-Def!

CO_Hoya from the Hoya Prospectus Blog has not posted since his brief note about contributor Ray Floriani back in early August and I wondered what he could be up to these days. His latest effort does not disappoint. The good news is that Georgetown fans can expect another season of statistical analysis and insight. The (even) better news is that Big East fans might also benefit from a steady stream of even more information-packed box score of their favorite team's conference games.

Ken Pomeroy introduced a newer version of the box score back in the spring of 2007. In an effort to (more accurately) describe what he wanted to do (and maybe generate some interest among the D1 stats community?) he called the new box score a HD Box Score. CO_Hoya debugged his "play-by-play" parser on the Villanova-Georgetown game of 2/17/07 (the 'Cats dropped that 3 point decision in the Wach, 55-58). It looks like his numbers match Ken Pomeroy's original HD box of that game, so he turned to two other games, the Hoya's 18 point win over Marquette back on 2/10/07 and the Villanova-Marquette Bradley Center game back on 2/19/07 (I wish he had found a Villanova victory to convert at some point...that Nova-Quette tilt was a 13 point Wildcat loss). The new box score provides the reader with each player's PT (down to the second...more or less), each player's TORate (you have to compute, but the numbers are there), ARate (see TORate) and plus/minus for the game. This may be a very ambitious project, but I think all fans of Big East basketball will benefit if CO_Hoya is able to generate boxes for all of the Big East games. Villanova an Marquette fans especially should take a look at CO_Hoya's posting.

Notes & Observations...I have looked over the 3 boxes as I write this post, and a few (Villanova-related) items jump out...
1. Dante Cunningham did pretty well for his freshman season, but these were not two of his better efforts. Te was -14 against the Warriors and -7 against the Hoyas.
2. Will Sheridan's effort was questioned more than once his last two seasons on the Mainline, but the Georgetown game was a pretty good defensive effort. For the 28+ minutes Bump manned the middle the Hoyas were +0.
3. Curt Sumpter had a good game against the Hoyas too. Curt logged 34+ minutes and the 'Cats were +2 during his run. Curt's effort against Marquette was not bad either. The 'Cats were -1 over the course of Curt's 28½ minute run.
4. Scottie's ARate for the two games was pretty impressive (note the 'Cats did not take many shots...), 6/18 or about 33.3, very high.