Thursday, November 13, 2008

Preview -- Albany

The Wildcats open their season by hosting the Great Danes for the second game in their all-time series. The advantage the decision of a single game goes to the Wildcats, who defeated the Great Danes (86-72) in December of 2004. Albany hails from the American East Conference, ranked #26 among conferences last season. The Danes last earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs in the 2005-06 season, and finished tied for second in the conference running to the AE quarterfinals before closing out with a loss to Boston University last season. With three starters (and offensive mainstays) moving on, the Great Danes will have to create some good chemistry as Coach Brown blends a brace of well-regarded newcomers with a handful of returnees (starters & red shirts) even as the season progresses. Their fortunes this season will rest on how quickly the newcomers can pick up the college game and work with each other...

What Others Say...
..."Heading into this year, we have a much different team. We'll be a much better offensive team..." -- Will Brown (Albany Head Coach). Blue Ribbon gives the back court a B+, the front court a B and the bench/depth a B. The Blue Ribbon Yearbook picked the Great Danes to finish 4th in the American East Conference. The American East coaches picked Albany to finish 6th in their preseason poll on October 27th.

Why Everyone Believes...
...Coach Will Brown brings in arguably the best recruiting class in the American East this season, even as he bid farewell to his offensive mainstays. JUCOs Michael Johnson (6-1 jr pg, Blinn CC, Texas), Louis Barraza (6-5 so sg, Yavapai CC, AZ), Edmund McRae (6-8 jr pf, Eastern Wyoming College, WY) and best of all, junior transfer Will Harris (6-6, 240lbs, f, University of Virginia) join with Logan Aronhalt, a 6-4 freshman guard out of Zanesville, OH (voted Ohio Division 1 POY last year) and 6-10 freshman forward Jake Lindfors out of Driscoll Catholic in Addison, IL. Harris provides the Danes with, according to the staff, " added bit of experience to the program and is expected to have an immediate impact on the Great Danes this season...". Harris provided the Cavaliers with a good sixth man, coming off the bench to play 35% of the available minutes at the forward spot his freshman season. Harris' role was reduced last season as he logged about 10% of the available minutes. Lack of available playing time motivated his transfer during the off season and he applied for, and was granted, a transfer waiver last month. Brown is trying to maintain momentum with a combination of transfer and underclassmen players.

So Far...
Albany (AE, 15-15, 10-6 RPI #206 -- 2008 records) finished tied for 2nd in the American East Conference last season. The Great Danes were eliminated in the quarter round of the AE's post season tournament and did not participate in any further post season play. The Wildcats come off an exhibition game victory (75-37) over the Rollie Massimino-coached NAIA Northwood Seahawks.

Albany By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years Albany's RPI ranking has swung from a low of #309 (2004) to a high of #78 (2007). Albany was a lower than average paced team last season (65.2 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report for Albany Page which ranked the Great Danes #236 out of approx. 341 - last season's average for pace was 67.0). Albany's offensive field goal efficiency (eFG) was a very average 49.0 (#201) while their shot defense was a bit more respectable (49.4, #145). All of Albany's, four factors (last season) look like this:

Albany's (adjusted) offensive rating was 100.9 (#177). They were undermined by poor shooting (mentioned above) and turnovers (ranked #204). Their (adjusted) defensive rating was 104.5 (ranked #208), its greatest challenge last season, and no doubt an area of concern heading into this season. Albany did show aggression, but in a few of the wrong places. They fouled too much, but did manage to limit their opponent's offensive rebounds, undoubtedly the strongest part of their defense (ranked #2). They failed however, to challenge for the ball, as their steal percentage (8.1, #299), blocking percentage (7.3, #238) and defensive turnover rate (18.8, #283) were comparatively low. The Danes were also inconsistent defending the 3 point line; like the 'Cats, the Danes allowed a comparatively high percentage of their opponents' shots to fall (36.0, #224).

Front court vs front court...
The Great Danes bring transfer Will Harris right from the beginning. Coach Brown believes he will be an impact player, and intends to use him in any position (should circumstances require), not named point guard. Harris will join the established front court complement that includes senior Brian Connelly, who posted "starter-level" possessions and shots earning a 101.6 offensive rating as the 3rd/4th option on offense last season, and junior forward Jerel Hastings, who posted numbers similar to Connelly while coming off the bench to play a bit more than ½ of the available minutes at small forward. Look for additional support from senior Jimmie Covington (6-7, 245lbs) and junior Brett Gifford (6-11, 260lbs).

Villanova's front court will feature senior Dante Cunningham (6-8, 230lbs), junior Casiem Drummond (6-10, 275lbs) and sophomore Antonio Pena (6-10, 235lbs). Most likely the start will go to Cunningham (if he is healthy -- word as of Wednesday was that he had a case of strep throat...) and Pena, as both started against Northwood last Friday. If the Northwood substitution pattern holds, Drummond will sub in early, and possibly senior Frank Tchuisi (6-8, 215lbs) will see action late if things are under control (Tchuisi was DNP on Friday, see roster note at bottom). The staff tends to be flexible with their wings, so don't be surprised if a rotation puts guard/wing(s) Dwayne Anderson (6-6, 215lbs) or Corey Stokes (6-5, 220lbs) in the paint at some point.

Back court vs back court (and wings)...
As Albany shifts Brian Connelly into the paint (or maybe not, as Coach Brown will have to figure out how to use both Brian Connelly and Will Harris...), most likely senior Jerel Hastings (6-5, 215lbs) will slip into the #3 spot. Hastings transferred in from Lon Morris Community College last season, after spending his freshman year at Stephen F. Austin. As for the #1 and #2, Coach Brown will most likely pick from heralded freshman Anthony Raffa (6-0, 175lbs), junior Michael Johnson (6-1, 195lbs), sophomore transfer Louis Barraza (6-5, 200lbs), and redshirt sophomore Tim Ambrose (6-0, 220lbs). The favorites may well be Johnson to start at point and Raffa at the #2. Raffa had a very successful fifth year at The Winchendon School where he ran the point for their prep team in the elite-level national prep circuit. Coach Brown no doubt feels Raffa will fit somewhere in the Great Dane system. Johnson has the advantage of two years of varsity experience in Coach Brown's system, and will most likely take the ball if Brown decides to play Raffa at the #2. Ambrose and another redshirt (freshman) Billy Allen (6-6, 210lbs) will most likely see their time on the wing. Both are rumored to be effective 3 point shooters.

Villanova's back court will feature the same cast as last season, though one absence is Malcolm Grant, who transferred to Miami (FL) in the off season. Junior Scottie Reynolds (6-2, 190lbs) will start at the point, with a rotation of sophomore Corey Fisher (6-1, 200lbs), junior Reggie Redding (6-5, 205lbs), senior Dwayne Anderson (mentioned above), sophomore Corey Stokes (also mentioned above) and walk-on junior Jason Colenda (6-0, 205lbs) out of which to mix and match. For the Northwood game, the staff started Reynolds at the point, with Anderson and Stokes on the wing. This was the back court featured in the last four games of the 2007-08 season. My guess is that the staff will stay with it for the time being. Reynolds & Stokes logged about 30 minutes apiece in the Northwood game, with Anderson and Corey Fisher (off the bench) getting 25+ minutes. The rotation extended to Redding, who logged double digit minutes, and to Colenda who saw cleanup work at the end.

Keys to the Game -- Albany
Based on last season's games...
1. Scoring from the field -- Albany went 6-15 last season in the 21 games where their eFG% was 50.0 or less. This should be an early test for Villanova's shot defense, an area of weakness last season. In Nova's 12 OOC games last season, the 'Cats held their opponents to 50.0 or less only 6 times.
2. Offensive rebounding -- Albany's record was also 6-15 in the 21 games where they grabbed <36.5% of their misses. As I mentioned above, rebounding was a strength for the Danes last season, with contributions on the offensive boards coming from the forwards and center positions. All, members from last year's squad were very good (though not outstanding) at getting to the boards.
3. Score from the field -- Albany's record last season was 3-12 when their opponent's eFG% was 50.0 or higher. Villanova's 2008 eFG% versus their OOC slate was 53.5; going <50.0 in 5 of their 12 games.
4. Get to the line -- Albany was 6-10 when their opponent's FTRate (FTA/FGA) was 40.0 or greater. Villanova's FTRate for their OOC slate was 39.5.

Final Thoughts...
The Great Danes should offer an interesting test for the Wildcat's front court rotation. Nova's forwards (and centers) will face off against a mix of upper classmen and power conference transfers. The Albany staff is hoping this contingent will step right into the void created by the departure of Brian Lillis and Brent Wilson. I expect the Villanova front court to dominate, but this will most likely not be a mid-major walkover. Raffa is talented but inexperienced. He should get quite an education at the hands of Scottie Reynolds, Dwayne Anderson and the two Coreys. Albany however has some good outside shooting, the 'Cats will have to counter with good perimeter defense, a problem area last season. If Albany wing players get their shots off (and are accurate) the game could be closer than anticipated.

Coach Wright used a 10 man rotation in the Northwood game, with eight of those players drawing double digit minutes. Given that several upper classmen are slowed by injury/rehab (see below), I suspect those ten (assuming they are all good to go...) will see court time, in much the same proportions, again. Getting the players in the deeper part of the bench some playing time has been traditionally valued by the staff and (by tradition) a priority in the early season games. I think this game will continue that pattern. Since both teams played last season for possessions (to varying degrees...) north of 65 possessions, this game will be played at about 67-69 possessions (my calculation was 67.4). Using last season's adjusted offensive and defensive ratings, figure the Wildcats should win this by high double digits.

Roster Notes -- Villanova
1. Junior forward Shane Clark had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will not practice until December.
2. Senior forward/center Frank Tchuisi was DNP for the Northwood game. He may be sidelined with a foot injury.
3. Senior forward Dante Cunningham has a case of strep throat. No official word on whether he will play against Albany.

1 comment: said...

As always... GREAT Stuff!