Saturday, November 1, 2008

2008-09 Preview -- Fourth Quartile

The Big East-related buzz through most of the summer was about the strength of the top of the conference going into this season. Preseason publications and msm analysts have, at one point or another, named some combination of Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh as members of the their Top 5 or (at worst...) Top 10. Looking at these Top 25 lists? Please expand the Big East contingent to 7 or even 8. John Gasaway over at the Basketball Prospectus titled his preview of the Big East "The Accidental Super-Converence Comes of Age" (yes I bought the The College Basketball Prospectus 2008-09 and will crib a note or two -- acknowledged of course -- in my preview...). In an attempt to maintain some suspence (yes I've learned something after a year of blogging...) I will begin with the bottom, rather than the top, four teams this year (as if you could not figure out my top quartile includes Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh). My fourth quartile with their 2007-08 records:

2007-08 Season
OverallBig EastBE
St. John's1119.367513.27814NA
Seton Hall1712.531712.38911BET
South Florida1219.387315.167T15(15)NA

Looking at the defensive rankings for Dean Oliver's four factors (table below), suggest a number of problems these four teams faced as they work through their respective Big East schedules last season, and prospects are that they will have many of the same problems this season...

 All Games  Conf. Games
TeameFG%TO%OReb%FTR%  eFG%TO%OReb%FTR%
DePaul1610144  169154
St. John's125613  155110
Seton Hall1571611  1416613
South Florida91398  1113139

Each team had an area of deficiency (offense or defense...maybe both?) that undermined the team's performance over the course of the season. For some the lack of efficiency may have been traced to injuries (Seton Hall, St. John's) possibly coupled with an especially shallow bench or holes at several crucial postions (South Florida's small forwards, DePauls' pgs...). There are tremendous opportunities available for conference newcomers (freshmen and transfers) to shake things up for these teams. But consider that three of these teams finished among the bottom four last season. These are not teams with one or two "missing parts" going into this season. There is already a lot of ground to make up, so short of a breakout season or several under-the-radar impact players, the prospects for these four appears to be more of the same...

DePaul -- Gimme a D! Seriously...
Wing Dar Tucker and bf Mac Koshwal were indeed the impact players promised in the 2007-08 preseason previews. Koshwal came off of the bench to play 30 minutes against Creighton in the Demon's opener, and started every game after. Tucker played behind senior Karon Clarke most of the season, alternating between the #2 and the #3 as he tried to find a spot on the floor. Coach Wainwright started for a spurt at the beginning of the season, then used him as "first off the bench" until the late in the season. He installed Tucker as a starter beside #2 Draelon Burns for the last five games. Tucker was a very consistent 13.6 points per game through both the OOC and Big East seasons. Both Koshwal and Tucker were named to the Big East All-Rookie Team.

For his Big East preview, John Gasaway [College Basketball Prospectus 2008-09] wrote a section for DePaul titled "Call them 'ePaul', for there was no 'D'" which pretty much sums up the Demons last season. Ranking 16th in the Big East for field goal defense is a bit deceptive. Nationally the Demons were ranked #306 out 341, or at the 89th percentile. The #15 ranked team (Seton Hall) was ranked #225 overall (the 66th percentile). That gives us a better perspective on how poorly DePaul defended the shot. The culprit? The Demons were not inclined to defend the 3 point field goal attempt, allowing opponents to shoot a head scratching 40.8% from the 3 point line. That's #338 out of 341 (that's the 99th percentile folks...). Gasaway suggested Coach Wainwright might address the problem with a conditioning coach, supporting his inference (that mid-major head coaches who move up to power conference teams tend to underestimate the value of conditioning in conference play...), via DePaul's collapse in defensive numbers (their ppp ballooned from 1.07 in the Demon's first nine BE games to 1.18 in the second nine BE games). Was the problem really tired players? Or maybe demoralized players?

Head Coach Jerry Wainwright's quest for a point guard continues. Over the past four seasons he has handed to ball to Jabari Curry, Will Walker and (subsequently redshirted) Mike Bizoukas, only to go back to Cliff Clinkscale, the pass-first ball handler he inherited from Dave Leitao. Clinkscale has graduated along with #2 guard Drealon Burns, leaving Coach Wainwright with the task of replacing both a wing scorer (Burns) and his most reliable floor director (Clinkscale). Clinkscale and Burns are however, the tip of the iceburg, as the Demons rank #14 in the Big East for returning minutes (49.0%) and #15 for upper classmen returning minutes (33.8%). Beyond Koshwal and Tucker, only Will Walker showed promise as a Big East-calibre (on the wing) player last season. Walker posted an eFG% of 55.3 while playing 49.2% of the available minutes (good for an ORtg of 115.3, among the Top 500 according to Ken Pomeroy's DePaul Scouting Report). Currie, a point guard candidate from season's past is turnover prone, while senior transfer Matija Poscic did manage to crack the starting lineup at the very end of 2008, but his offensive production (ORtgs -- 0, 34.0, 0 and 0) was very limited. The Blue Demons have a collection of new #5s to contend for the middle -- redshirt Obi Kene, true freshman Krys Faber will push Proscic for minutes, and most likely move Koshwal out to the #4. Jeremiah Kelly, a Chicago native and classmate of Tyreke Evans at American Christian last year, will be the latest candidate for the point.

St. John's -- Defense? Check, Offense? Offense?...Bueller? Bueller?
The Red Storm posted an adjusted defensive rating of 93.2 which ranked them #8 in the conference on overall defense. They ranked #1 for defensive rebounding (DReb% - 72.0) and posted a respectable 21.0% TO% (turnover rate), good for #5 in the conference, showing good "aggression" on defense. Why then, did the Johnnies finish #14 last season? The Red Storm did a poor job defending the field goal attempt for starters. Check the table above; St. John's was a monster on the defensive boards -- but their opponents didn't miss much. Especially (as noted by Basketball Prospectus writer John Gasaway...) inside the arc. The Johnnies allowed opponents to score at a 51.6% clip, second only to...DePaul for generosity on shot defense. While their 3 point shot defense was an apparently better 36.1%, remember that percentage yields the equivalent points for shooting at 54.2% from 19-9 in. Even with a conference-only DRtg of 102.0, the Red Storm was ranked a respectable #6 for defense (there were a few porous defenses in the Big East last season). What pushed the Red Storm into the fourth quartile last season?

The offense...second only to Rutgers for least effective in the conference. The proximate causes for mediocrity were the usual suspects -- poor shooting coupled with lots of turnovers. The Johnnies ranked #16 in eFG% and #15 in TO% (conference games only). Virtually the entire rotation, (outbound) transfer Larry Wright excepted, was guilty of poor shooting, posting ORtgs in an 8 point range (roughly) of 90-98. Notable exceptions to the mid 90s ORtgs on the downside included freshmen Justin Burrell (who was tasked to provide a substantial part of the offense in the absence of Anthony Mason Jr.) and Malik Boothe, the Johnnies' point guard of the future (now that Gene Lawrence has moved on). Boothe was plagued by the twin devils -- his eFG% was a squad low (among those in the "regular rotation") 32.8, while his TO% was also a "rotation low" 30.7, -- he lost nearly 1 in 3 of his possessions. In fairness to Boothe however two other St. John's players, forward Sean Evans and guard Paris Horne -- both freshmen -- lost more than 1 in 4 of their possessions playing >35% of the minutes at their respective positions.

Predictably unpredictable might be the best way to describe St. John's. This season could be quite a ride as the Red Storm returns 75.3% of their minutes from last season. The telling stat however, may be that only 21.5% of those returning minutes was supplied by upper classmen to be. Underclassmen took nearly 70% (69.8%) of the minutes last season (7:1 freshmen minutes). Will the time invested translate into "experienced" minutes this season? Maybe. In 2006-07 underclassmen consumed 55.8% of the available minutes. And in 2005-06 Coach Roberts allocated nearly 42% of the minutes to freshmen and sophomores. Keeping players eligible and in the program will be important. As for offense, the staff added 2 more high scoring guards, Tyshwan Edwards and Quincy Roberts, to the roster. Will one or both balance offense from Mason and Burrell?

Seton Hall -- For Whom the Bell Tolls?
Seton Hall's offense was ranked #63 overall by Ken Pomeroy (see his stats page, which placed it #12 among the Big East teams (offense was a priority last season). Looking over the Pirate roster more than a few players were lighting it up, and doing it efficiently: Brian Laing, Jamar Nutter (both seniors), John Garcia (sophomore), Mike Davis and Jeremy Hazell (both freshmen) had offensive ratings >100 (promising). Laing, Garcia, Hazell and Davis were above the Hall's raw offensive rating -- 106.2 -- suggesting there were always a few weapons on the floor. The Pirate teams of Coach Gonzalez have featured a guard-oriented attack from his very first season. But last season ended much like the two before, as the Pirates were gasping for breath coming into the finish line.

John Gasaway provided a nice juxtaposition of the offensive/defensive ratings (ppp) for the Pirate's first 8 and last 10 games. The gap (-0.10 on offense & +0.07 on defense, provide a clear explanation for the Hall's collapse going down the stretch). Coach Gonzalez has been cheating the past 2 seasons as he has moved wing Brian Laing over to, with the graduation of Kelly Whitney, to play the #4 in his system. That faster, more competitive team, has worn down Laing as the seasons went on. Another body in the rotation went missing when injury benched Paul Gaus' (he missed virtually the entire Big East season, save 3 games during an aborted comeback attempt). All of which left the Pirates shallow in the back court too. The numbers don't lie...

Conference eFG%
Player1st 8Last 10
Larry Davis (soph)38.532.6
Mike Davis (frosh)50.055.6
John Garcia (soph)52.273.8
Eugene Harvey (soph)46.231.9
Jeremy Hazell (frosh)53.449.6
Brian Laing (sr)48.646.4
Jamar Nutter (sr)59.046.0
Gus Okosun (jr)55.653.3

Efficient shot making plummeted for Harvey, Nutter and Larry Davis. Even seniors (and well conditioned?) Laing and freshman phenom Jeremy Hazell suffered modest declines. True John Garcia, Gus Okosun and Mike Davis, centers all, saw their shot efficiency rise, but remember these three are role player-level contributors on offense. Maybe Gonzalez should have gotten his bigs the ball more often, but those three had not played large/star-level roles in the Pirate offense.

Lacking bodies, especially big ones, has the Pirates coach exploring more exotic ways of bringing in Big East quality players. Whether working a "flexible" grading policy for Jamal Jackson, a "ball court lawyering" with Michael Glover's law suit or transfer-and-file tactic with Herb Pope and Keon Lawrence, Coach Gonzalez has pushed, tested, stretched policies in an effort to recruit and become competitive with teams that have had the luxery of picking and choosing in the New Jersey recruiting seedbed. Have his court-side antics, combined with his exotic recruiting practices combined to induce "Gonzo Fatigue" among the Hall fan-base and administration? Most recruiting ploys having been turned aside, and Laing, Nutter, Larry Davis and Okosun departed (graduation or transfer...), Coach Gonzalez finds his bench shorter and his line up smaller. The Pirates are ranked #13 for returning minutes and #8 with returning upper classmen. A smaller lineup with fewer players. The staff hopes (as related by Jerry Carino in his SHU Media Day piece for the Courier-News...) to counter by lowering the tempo and stretching out possessions. A brewing staff-administration feud may well work to distract the team and drain even more energy from the staff and squad.

South Florida -- The Stan Heath Era: Year 2
Stan Heath arrived in Tampa just in time to say goodbye to the Bull's #3 and #4's from the 2006-07 season. While he continued to recruit, it seemed only guards were signing on with the new coach. Going into the season Heath could look to much heralded (but redshirted...) recruits like Dante Curry to pick up the scoring for the departed frontcourt players Melvin Buckley and McHugh Mattis. The pleasant surprise was Dominique Jones. Jones, a freshman, started along side fellow freshman Orane Chin from day 1. Jones prospered, which led to an exodus of contenders for the #2 guard and wing spots. Along with Dante Curry, the Bulls said goodbye to sophomores Solomon Bozeman and Amu Saaka, as well as freshmen Aaron Holmes and Orane Chin (not really a surprise, after a decent start, Chin faded as the season wore on...).

The Bulls brought in a coach who has already succeeded at the head of another power conference program. He is recruiting to a south Florida (named...South Florida) -- that's an advantage, and he is slowly bringing in Big East-level talent albeit a few at a time. Success will come. Dominique Jones may well see post season play, beyond the BET, by the time he graduates.

Most Likely to Move Up...
Probably best answered as "who is least likely to sink faster?" Like Rutgers, the Johnnies were offense-deprived last season. Their defense was solid enough, their offense hurt them badly. If either incoming wing proves to be a prolific scorer, then maybe Mason and Burrell won't feel the need to take 1 in 2 available shots when they play together on the court. And maybe that will provide (efficient) scoring opportunities to other players (DJ Kennedy? Boothe?). The key for St. John's is improved offense. The defense is the best in this quartile. Better offense should move them up.

Most Likely to Finish Last...
South Florida -- The Bulls lost Kentrall Gransberry, and will enter this season lacking an experienced #5 (though they have Gus Gilchrist waiting in the wings...) to go with their ongoing gap in the forward (#3/#4) spots. Coach Stan Heath is looking at returning senior Mobolaji Ajayi (eFG% 46.9, ORtg 85.3, Poss% 16.3, Shot% 14.5...the numbers of a role player...) and freshman Gene Teague to go with transfer Alex Rivas-Sanchez to fill Kentrall Gransberry's shoes. A duo of returning senior Aris Williams (much injured during his career at USF) and freshman Eladio Espinoza will man the #4. In the absence of Gilchrist is there a Big East-quality talent somewhere on that committee? I don't see him (them) yet, maybe after the season gets underway...

1 comment:

Pico said...

Nice post, I will at least link to it; I might borrow some as talking points on the East Coast Bias.

My hope for the team comes in 1. reduced turnovers 2. better/ more confident offensive flow 3. better defense, because that was the worst performance on 2pt fg defense they've had under Roberts.