Friday, November 14, 2008

2008-09 Preview -- Third Quartile

I didn't get this quartile right last season...
...and there is no reason to believe I will get it right this season either. The measure of a "second quartile" team that falls to the third quartile, or a third quartile team that falls down to the fourth quartile is often measured by an injury to the "wrong" player. Or a really bad season from a few critical players.

2007-08 Season
OverallBig EastBET

For the fourth quartile teams (many of whom appear there for the second season), either the offense or the defense was truly terrible (and the other, St. John's excepted) was not especially good either. A look at last season's the offensive rankings for third quartile teams may provide some insight on how these teams will fare this season...

 All Games  Conf. Games
TeameFG%TO%OReb%FTR%  eFG%TO%OReb%FTR%
Cincinnati1412915  1411515
Georgetown1131311  213138
Providence511614  4121113
Rutgers16151612  15141614

Cincinnati -- The Problem With JUCOs...
After a very uncertain start that included double digit losses to Belmont, UAB, Illinois St. and Memphis the Bearcats appeared to be in trouble. Their record going into the opener at Louisville was 5-7, backed by an ORtg of 98.7 and a DRtg of 101.8. Picked for a lower division (fourth quartile?) finish the Bearcats appeared intent not to disappoint. The improvement on offense was measurable (see table above). Cincinnati showed modest improvement in taking care of the ball (turnover rate), and fairly dramatic improvement in offensive rebounding. The latter was of particular importance given the Bearcats rather dismal showing on field goal efficiency (their eFG% declined during Big East play, from 47.3 to 46.4). Going into their last game of the regular season, at Connecticut, Cincinnati was 8-9 with a "points for/against" net of -22, about where they were through the 13 games of their OOC (-25). The collapse in Storrs (a 96-51 drubbing by the Huskies, hungry to make a statement...) was a step back on an otherwise promising turnabout. The Bearcats were invited to participate in the inaugural play of the CBI post season tournament. They hosted the Bradley Braves but were eliminated 70-67. 13-19 showed progress over their 11-19 tally in Coach Mick Cronan's first season. The Bearcats got more efficient offense from Deonta Vaughn, the Bearcat's representative on the Big East All-Rookie Team from 2006-07 when Cronan gave the ball to JUCO Jamal Warren and allowed him to direct the play. Vaughn could concentrate on what he does best (find the open spot on the floor...and shoot), rather than ball handling.

After 2 up-and-down seasons, Deonta Vaughn has become a bonafide Big East star. His poss% (27.3), shot% (27.6) say star-level role in the offense, while his efficiency (eFG% 55.5 & ORtg 109.5) say his recognition as a preseason consensus First Team All-Big East is earned. Coach Cronan brought in a very well regarded class of front court players (Rashard Bishop, Kenny Belton, Anthony McClain...) and wings (Larry Davis, Alvin Mitchell & Darnell Wilks) for the 2007-08 season. After tinkering with a double digit (10-12) rotation through much of the schedule, Cronan settled into a nucleus of 7-9 players who consistently saw double digit minutes. The largest portion of that time went to vets Gentry(who was DNP for the last 4 games of his career), Hrycaniuk, Sikes, Vaughn, Warren and Williamson. Of that nucleus, only Vaughn will return (health providing...) for his junior year. Teammates Marvin Gentry, Marcus Sikes and Jamal Warren, JUCOs all, will not be back. Nor will transfers John Williamson (Min% 65.7; ORtg 103.5) and Adam Hrycaniuk (Min 60.2; DR% 17.2), whose eligibility ran out. Those players, Warren and Williamson in particlar, will be missed. Warren missed the first six games with an injury (Bearcats went 4-2, dropping decisions to Belmont and Bowling Green during that stretch) but managed, upon his return, to see his minutes rise from 30.2 in the OOC to 32.4 in Big East regular season play, to 37.5 in the post season (a BET game and the CBI first round). Warren, while not consuming a lot of possessions (or shooting much) managed an assist rate of 25.1 (second to Vaughn) and a team best steal rate of 2.9. Vaughn and the freshmen (now sophomores) bring back 39.8% of last season's minutes, with nearly half of that time (42.0%) coming in the person of Deonta Vaughn.

The Bearcats have another brace of well regarded freshmen front court players to integrate with returners McClain, Belton and Bishop, in the form of Yancy Gates and (if he qualifies & rehabs) John Reik. Oh, and another pair of transfers, JUCO Steven Toyloy and (redshirt senior and former MDAA) Mike Williams, will also have to integrate with the existing core. Coach Cronan will have quite a few quality front court players to sort out. The back court is also charged with integrating (in this case a much needed) newcomer, Dion Dixon a 6-3 guard out of Chicago, Ill. Cashmere Wright, a very well regarded point guard who was expected to step into Jamal Warren's shoes, was injured during practice in October, and will redshirt this season. This is bad news as it leaves Coach Cronan with the choice of having Vaughn pick up ball handling responsibiities (a role which diminished his efficiency when he did it his freshman season) or attempting to train Dion Dixon (or Larry Wright...) on the fly. The Bearcats will again be very big, but without someone to feed Vaughn or the front court, probably not especially efficient offensively.

Georgetown -- JT3 Might Need Name Tags at Practice...
The 2007-08 offseason started on a high note for the Hoyas -- Roy Hibbert pulled out of the draft to return for his senior season, and Jeff Green stayed in to pull down a lottery position (#5, by the Boston Celtics). With a stellar back court player, Chris Wright, due to begin his career as Jon Wallace was finishing up (providing for a smooth transition) and having a committee of DaJuan Summer and Patrick Ewing ready to stand in and pick up Jeff Green's minutes/FGAs/assists(!?)/role, it looked as if Georgetown would not take the (big) step back that some predicted for the 2007-08 season. Georgetown finished in a tie for first place in the Big East and secured a #2 seed in the NCAAs this past spring. And while they did not return to the Final Four, they did not fall back into the middle of the conference as some predicted. For the Hoya fans who have come to expect their Georgetown squad would always perform at 2006-07 efficiencies, there had to be some disappointment.

Jeff Green's early exit left a scoring and assist void. Who would step into that void? As the table below suggests, the 2007-08 Hoyas were less efficient (offensively & defensively) than the 2006-07 Hoyas.


Note that their 2006-07 offensive rating, field goal efficience (eFG% -- due largely to Roy Hibbert's phenominal 67.1% accuracy) and offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) were Top 10 ranked per Pomeroy's Scounting Report. In the 2007-08 season they maintained that status only in eFG% (again, complements of Hibbert who hit at a slightly lower 60.5%). Hibbert, Wallace and Jessie Sapp were called on to cover Green's numbers. Hibbert assumed a "star-level" role with respect to the offense (see Poss% and Shot% below)

By the end of the third paragraph, the Hoya Prospectus' guest blogger posed the question about this season's edition -- "...two points will be the story of this year’s Hoyas: will youth and the lack of experience playing together derail the high level of physical talent and coaching this team so obviously has?" (follow the link to part 1 of the blogger's detailed preview of the Hoya team). While the back court and wing (Wright, Sapp and Freeman) all have (to varying degrees) exposure to the Princeton Offense, the front court, DaJuan Summers aside, have no experience (promise/potential aside...) at all. Physical? Check. Skilled? Check. Hibbert, Ewing and Macklin all required time to acclimate (that is not limited to the learning curve posed by the Princeton Offense, but also to the conditioning needed to play a 30+ game D1 power conference season). Is it reasonable to assume that Sims and Monroe will integrate faster than Hibbert and Ewing (and Macklin)? Macklin's transfer was especially untimely. Vaughn's waiver notwithstanding, the Hoyas enter this season with, next to Cincinnati, the least experienced squad in the conference, as measured by returning minutes. Looking at returning minutes for upper classmen only, the Hoyas are still ranked at #10, a difficult spot from which to maintain a top quartile ranking. Conditioning for Sims, Monroe and even Wright might become the determining factors for how the Hoyas fare in the late season contests.

Providence -- Welcome to the Big East Keno
In the last 5 or so years of his regime, Friar Head Coach Tim Welsh relied increasingly on the spring signing period to assemble his incoming class for the next season. No question the Providence staff had a knack for identifying overlooked talent. But too many of those players brought baggage which distracted the squad and undermined the effort to establish a stable squad. The class that entered as freshmen in the fall of 2005 was different. The four players who formed the nucleus were good, they "starred" or at least contributed solid minutes. And they returned for their sophomore (and later junior) seasons. Jon Kale, Geoff McDermott and Weyimni Efejuku, will move on at the close of the 2008-09 season. Sharaud Curry, the point guard who pulled the class together redshirted last season with a preseason injury, but will most likely return for the 2009-10 season. After showing progress in their sophomore season, the group seemed to (collectively...) stall in their junior year, even though head coach Tim Welsh seemed to have filled out the squad with high quality (if high risk...) players. The step back from the 2007-08 season, which saw the Friars advance to the Big East Tournament and then to the NIT, most likely cost Coach Welsh his job. His successor, Keno Davis, whose career includes a number of years as an assistant under his father Tom Davis and capped with a terrific first season at Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference, will pick up where Coach Welsh left off. The Friar faithful hope he will help this group of upper classmen realize the potential they have shown in their first and second years.

Year over year statistics show the 2007-08 squad stepped back in on both offense and defense. As the table below shows, the 2008 Friars were not as adept as the 2007 edition...but they did not exactly collapse on offense.


Note the Offensive rating is the adjusted value. If the adjusted ratings look close enough, you would be correct. The Friars dropped from #58 in 2007 all the way down to #60 in 2008. Of particular interest however, is the field goal percentages and the rebounding rates. Note that 5 point drop in 2FGMs dropped the Friars from #21 in D1 down to #147 in D1. That's quite a hit. Even hitting a higher percentage of 3s did not compensate fully. The 2007 Friats were ranked #107 for 3 point accuracy; the 2008 Friars were ranked #64. The greater 3 point accuracy did not make up for the decline in 2 point accuracy (see the eFG% for both years -- the Friars declined from #39 to #106, year-over-year, in that category...). The Friars dropped from #5(!) to #62 in their offensive rebounding. They were shooting more poorly while also losing out on second chance opportunities. On defense the decline was a bit more pronounced as the table below suggests...


Providence's opponents shot better and rebounded their misses better. As John Gasaway opined in Basketball Prospectus, the Friars really missed Herbert Hill, their 6-11 #5 who hit 64.2% of his 2 point FGAs, and was ranked #175 in defensive rebounding percentage (19.3). Those very subtle differences (and the inability of Randall Hanke, Jon Kale and Ray Hall to make up that difference) dropped the Friars from a 18-13 (8-8) to 15-16 (6-12) in 2007-08.

The Friar's better 3 point shooting from 2008 is something Keno Davis can work with. His 2007-08 Drake team was ranked #10 nationally (D1) in the ratio of 3-to-2 point FGAs. Davis' system was more deliberate than the offense employed by Welsh, a difference of about 4 - 6 possessions per game. Drake however, ended the 2008 season as fifth most efficient offense in D1 (per Ken Pomeroy's Drake Scouting Report, relying on many of the same elements as Tim Welsh's offense -- high eFG% (effective field goal shooting), coupled with low turnover rates (TO%) and high offensive rebounding percentages (OR%). Historically the Friar's achilles heel has been defense that borders on indifference. While not Davis' strong point, his 2008 Drake squad did do a better job than any of the last 4 Friar squads.

Rutgers -- If You Build It, Will They Come?...
Year 2 of the Fred Hill Era launched more smoothly than Year 1 as the Scarlet Knights more than reversed a Year 1 3-5 start to a 6-2 start. Unfortunately this did not carry into their Big East regular season where the Knights were unable to improve their 3 win total from 2006-07. Given the two extra games in league play this past season, RU's winning percentage in conference play declined from .187, to .167. The list of opponents and margin of victories may have been a bit more prestigious in year 2 (Villanova, Pittsburgh), but that did not translate into a larger number of conference wins, or a better winning percentage.

Offense was the weakness for Rutgers. The numbers (compliments of Ken Pomeroy's Rutger Scouting Report) tell the tale...


Note that Rutgers ranked #225 (out of 341) or lower in every one of Oliver's four factors, eFG%, TO%, OR% and FTR%. The Knights were ranked #300 or lower in eFG% (#323) and 2 point FGM (43.4, #315). They have to get better, and I don't say that as a plea to the team, I state it as a matter of fact. The Knights of the Raritan were ranked #253 for adjusted offense last season (see Pomeroy link above). Among teams in the six power conferences, only Oregon State was ranked lower (at #264). The next lowest power conference program was St. John's at #215...and the next lowest was Iowa at #204. Looking for Inman, Griffin or Farmer to catch fire offensively is, given the lack of changing/expanding roles on the team over the past 2 seasons, unlikely. Mike Rosario, an older (and wiser?) Hamady N'Diaye (or Greg Enchinque?) and Corey Chandler are more likely to grow into the starter/star-level offensive role required for Rutgers' offense to function more efficiently.

Most Likely to Move Up...
Georgetown will move up if Chris Wright can pick up the offensive principles and effectively direct the rest of the team. If Summers can continue to develop and pick up the

Most Likely to Move Down...
I put Rutgers in the third quartile because the Scarlet Knights' incoming class is tailored to address RU's needs on the court (more/better wings and scoring) and is the best regarded of the five teams who are "contending" for the four spots in the conference basement. Rutgers is returning about 86.1% of their minutes from last season (maybe not a good thing considering their lack of success?), ranking them #2 in returned minutes among confernce teams. The returning minutes ought to provide a structure into which the new players can fit. But consider that only 63.8% of those minutes are upper classmen (ranked #9), suggesting that there are roles available to fill (and players capable of developing?). Quite a bit, too much perhaps, is expected of that group. Critical injuries, prolonged (or unsuccessful...) suspensions may disrupt the orientation and development of the freshmen. Unrealized expectations might trigger a crisis of confidence. This might be the most talented collection of players Rutgers has seen in this decade. The burden is now on the staff to teach them, set the example and facilitate their development. Or maybe this team is just not as good as advertised.

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