Thursday, November 27, 2008

Preview -- Towson

The Wildcats and Tigers meet in the semifinal round of their bracket in the 2008 edition of The Philly Hoops Classic. The game will be played in the Palestra, home court for the Penn Quakers and the "neutral" site used for years to host all Big 5 games. Villanova and Towson have played three games in a series that dates back to 1981. This is the first time, however, they have met in the Palestra. Villanova holds a 3-0 edge. Nova won their last meeting (2001) by a 87-75 score. The Towson program is guided by Pat Kennedy, a veteran D1 head coach whose career spans 27 years and includes stops at Iona College (NY), Florida State, (fellow Big East conference member) DePaul and Montana where he has compiled a 449-367 record. Coach Kennedy's personal record versus Villanova is 0-1 (a 67-66 loss at the Red Lobster Classic, Orlando, FLA, in 1988-89).

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a A and the bench/depth a B. Blue Ribbon Yearbook (Mike Litos author) picked Towson to finish #7 in the 12 member Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Jeff Borzello over at March Madness All Season Blog lists Towson among "Rounding Out the Pack" (lowest category) in his CAA Preview. Joel Welser over at CHN ranked the Tigers #289 out of 341 (#12 of 12 in the CAA) for his 144 Teams Project. The CAA coaches picked Towson to finish #9 in conference play at their annual Media Day Celebration. The team over at Rush the Court Blog picked Towson to finish #10 in their CAA Conference Preview. Most of the preview is devoted to the conference elites (VCU, George Mason, etc.), so there is little written about the Tigers.

Why Everyone Believes...
...Coach Pat Kennedy seems to specialize in rebuilding programs. The Tigers moved up to the CAA two years before he arrived and struggled to be competitive at the CAA level. Coming off of the floor (a 6-23 record) his first season at the helm, the Tigers have been able to get double digit wins in each of the last 3 seasons. The progress has been uneven, but generally upward. Senior forward Junior Hairston was selected to the All-CAA 2nd Team by the CAA coaches.

So Far...
...Towson (CAA, 3-1, RPI #66) brings a 3-1 record to this match. Notable (i.e. only) wins by the Tigers -- Navy (Pat 3-1, #135), Hampton (MEAC, 1-2, #117) and NJIT (ind, 0-3, #150). The 'Cats and Tigers have both played Niagara (another Philly Hoops Classic participant) this month:

The 'Cats enter this game sporting a 4-0 record - their most recent effort, against the Monmouth Hawks (fellow Philly Hoops Classic participant), had the Wildcats hit the locker room at the half up by 32, and cruise through the second half for a 23 point win (71-48). The 'Cats closest game, against Niagara, was a 15 point win.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...The front court begins with senior forward Junior Hairston (6-8, 205lbs), a College of Charleston transfer who started every game for Towson last season (his first in the CAA). Hairston led the Tigers in 4 categories last season, including points scored (360), field goal percentage (0.438) and rebounding (9.1). Other returnees include seniors Tony Durant (6-7, 245lbs) & Tommy Breaux (6-8, 210lbs), along with sophomores Robert Nwankwo (6-8, 220lbs) and David Brewster (6-6, 205lbs). Durant started 23 of Towson's 31 games last season, but after an early suspension, has found himself behind a couple of newcomers by way of transfer. Coach Kennedy has taken the transfer route to build up his front court. The incoming transfers who qualify to play this season include, junior Calvin Lee (6-7, 200lbs) and sophomore Jarrel Smith (6-7 200lbs) who are joined by redshirt freshman Ricardo Brown (6-5, 215lbs). Jarrel Smith has gotten all 4 starts so far, with the other starter split between Lee and Nwankwo. Other front court players in the rotation include Hairston who returned against Niagara, and Brewster.

Villanova will counter with senior Dante Cunningham and sophomore Antonio Pena, both starters for all four games in the 2008-09 season. Senior Shane Clark and junior Casiem Drummond should also be present in the rotation. Senior Frank Tchuisi will provide end of half relief if needed.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Coach Kennedy's philosophy of building through transfers extended into the back court last season as junior Georgetown transfer Josh Thornton (6-2, 175lbs) who began play last January. Joining him are returning seniors Rocky Coleman (6-3, 180lbs), 3 point shooter Tim Crossin (6-1, 175lbs) and backup point guard Vernon Carr (6-2, 200lbs) who started 8 games at the #1 last season. Sophomore transfers Jimmy Smith (6-4, 180lbs), brother of Jarrel and Brian Morris (6-5, 171lbs) who moved over from Richmond appear ready to join the rotation. True freshman Troy Franklin (5-11, 160lbs) has started the Tigers first four games at the #1. The Smith brothers transferred in from Colorado State. Manning the deep bench are redshirt sophomore Caleb McClary (6-0, 175lbs) and senior (former walk-on) Ryan Kannegieter (5-11, 172lbs). Coach Kennedy has started Thornton, Morris and Franklin, while divvying up the remaining minutes (during various games) among Crossin, Coleman and Carr. Unless he wants to go bigger versus Villanova, Coach Kennedy will most likely stay with the Thornton, Morris, Franklin trio.

Villanova will counter with Reynolds, Fisher and Stokes. Reynolds and Fisher had terrible outings against the Monmouth Hawks. Scottie scored 9 points on 1-6 (0-3, 7-8) shooting, his lowest scoring output since Villanova lost at Louisville last March. Fisher has now had two games of relatively inefficient output. In the Niagara game however he was able to compensate for poor shooting by grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing 5 assists. His off the ball production verseus Monmouth was a bit more modest. A bounce-back game would be reassuring to the fans. Stokes keeps rolling along. The additional foot has not affected his scoring touch from distance. His eFG% remains (well) North of 50.0 (77.6) while he continues to contribute with assists and boards.

Towson By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years Towson's RPI has swung in a 150 rank range, from a high of #156 to a low of #302. Last season the Tigers finished ranked #278. Towson is a little higher than average pace team this season (69.9 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Towson Scout Page which ranks the Tigers #133 out of approx. 344 - the current average for pace is 68.7). A Four Factors comparison of Towson's offense versus Villanova's defense (complements of Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report for Towson and Villanova) looks like this...

When Towson has the ball...
Tiger O46.620.735.730.1
'Cat D44.324.027.334.9

Towson's eFG% is a weakness for them. They are ranked at about #233 in that category. The culprit is 2 point shooting, likely given Junior Hairston's suspension and Josh Thornton's minislump. The front court has been relatively productive, but Towson's back court has been a bit uneven in point production. The other stat of interest is the turnover rate. Villanova's defense forces them (that 24.0 translates into an #85 rank), while Towson's offense tends to give them up (their rank is #143). The Tigers were especially careless against Hampton (average backcourt, but first game) and Niagara (aggressive back court). Shutting down Thornton and forcing turnovers could well stall out the Tigers. Turning around to look at the Four Factors from the other side of the ball...

When Villanova has the ball...
'Cat O56.917.739.839.0
Tiger D43.222.440.621.6

The Wildcats have been especially strong on field goal efficiency (despite the minislump from Fisher and Reynolds...), ranking #29 overall in eFG%. Nova's strongest point has been 3 point shooting (thank you Mr. Stokes...), an area of strength for Towson as well. This should be a good indicator of the Wildcat's fortunes -- if the 'Cats can hit the long ones consistently, then they should roll. Towson is pretty average on 2 point defense (ranked #233 on 44.8). This could be an opening for another big night by senior Dante Cunningham. Dante has been on a tear lately, putting up an average of 18.5 ppg through the 'Cats first four games. 'Te has maintained an impressive eFG% of 63.0 with a PPWS of 1.31, suggesting he is very efficient when scoring. He has also maintained "go-to guy" level possessions and shots (>26.0), indicating he is overpowering the competition so far. Antonio Pena has also provided efficient scoring, but has assumed more a "role player/regular/starter" level possessions and shots (15% < 22%). Towson's area of vulnerability is rebounding -- they are ranked #318 overall for limiting opponent's offensive rebounds. Villanova by contrast is very good at offensive rebounding (ranked #47 overall), largely due to Cunningham and Pena. This could be a mismatch that Coach Kennedy will have to take steps to address.

Final Thoughts...
Both teams will likely utilize front court rotations dominated by 'tweeners -- Towson's entire contingent weighs in at less than 245 (Tony Durant) and heights ranging from 6-5 to 6-8. Villanova's regulars (Casiem Drummond excepted) have similar dimensions -- all fall in the 6-6 to 6-8 range, with Cunningham the "heavy weight" at 235lbs. Considering 2 point defense (and Nova's recent decent production from the frontcourt) coupled with offensive rebounding stats, suggest the frontcourt matchups could be very competitive. Both Cunningham and Pena have been especially vulnerable to fouls however, having played less than 25 minutes each in the Niagara game (and subsequently fouling out). Pena took an early exit from the Monmouth game. Villanova's second line (Drummond, Tchuisi and Clark) while contributors all so far, have proved less efficient & prolific at scoring, and less aggressive at rebounding. The Wildcats hold a distinct advantage in back court matchups. The Tigers have started freshman Troy Franklin for a reason. Josh Thornton is the best of the contingent, with Brian Morris searching for a role in the offense. This might be a good game for Reynolds and Fisher to regain some confidence.

The staff has maintained a 10 man rotation despite injuries to core members of the squad. They have doled out double digit minutes to a consistent group of 7-8 players (the starters plus 2-3 from Clark, Drummond, Redding and Tchuisi).

The game should be played for about 66 possessions; Villanova has shown little aptitude for controlling the pace this season, so they may be vulnerable to playing closer to Towson's preferred pace (Coach Kennedy likes to push the offense...the Tigers would probably prefer possessions in the 70s). According to adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies the Wildcats should take this game too, by a margin in the range of 20 or so points (likely a bit less).

Roster Notes...
Villanova --
1. Dwayne Anderson is due to have his ankle checked next week. He will not be available for the game.
2. Casiem Drummond, having served a one game suspension, is due to return for Townson, and should be available to play.
Towson --
1. This will be Junior Hairston's second game since returning from a 3 game suspension imposed by Coach Kennedy on 11/7/08 for violating team policies.
2. Freshman Ricardo Brown, a 6-5 forward out of Harrisburg, PA was suspended for violating team policies at the same time as Junior Hairston. Brown's suspension, for five games, is due to be lifted for Towson's last Philly Hoops Classic game on Saturday.


deal said...

A minor point of interest is that Tony Durant is NBA star Kevin Durant's older brother. And last year he appeared to be a bit husky for 245.

greyCat said...

For Villanova's sake I hope Tony does not have Kevin's hops (and shot...). I took player weights and heights from Towson's "official" team roster. College's are notoriously inaccurate (on the high side) when it comes to player heights, so it would not surprise me if Towson was a bit light on Tony's weight.