Monday, December 15, 2008

La Salle Post Game: Big 5 Wars

Three quarters of the Big 5 schedule in the books before fall semester exams even begin, with a 3-0 record to boot. Times have changed...the ebb and flow of the City Series fueled basketball-related discussions through January and into February. Now the conversations of January and February for all of the Big 5 teams speculates on prospects within each member's conference, and to life after conference play ends. The scoring differential of this latest Big 5 tilt, if a bit low, nevertheless fit the models, but I confess I was concerned about this outcome given the challenge of playing their third game in six days, and how the team struggled against the 'Horns and Hawks. The breakdown by halves...

OpponentLa Salle 
 Offense Defense

One Step Forward, One Step Back...
The Wildcats, according to the breakdown, came out like gangbusters in the first half. Note the team's shooting efficiency (eFG%) and turnover rate (TORate). Those are very encouraging numbers, but the ORtg was fairly modest. A hint at the causes can be found in the PPWS, a very modest 1.03 and in the offensive rebounding, a troubling 20.0. If the first half's offensive numbers were a mixed bag, the defensive numbers looked very good. The Explorers were shooting poorly (eFG%), not getting to their offensive rebounds (OR%) and not, despite holding home team status, getting to the line (FTA/FGA). With an 11 point lead going into half-time, the 'Cats seemed poised to roll.

The second half, by the numbers, turned out to be more competitive. While the 'Cats converted their FGAs even more efficiently than in the first half (see eFG% & PPWS above), their offensive rating declined! The culprits? A combination it seems, of turnovers (TORate was up) and offensive rebounds (OR% declined). The Explorers managed to get 3 more steals in the second half (2 to Kamini Barrett).

Half-time Adjustments?...Loss of Interest?...Both?...Neither?
Villanova took a 10 point lead into the locker room at the half, but managed to add an additional point to the winning margin over the course of the seconds half. The modest decline in offensive efficiency was secondary to the larger decline in defensive efficiency. Defense has been the straw that stirs Villanova's drink in the Jay Wright Era, the declines therefore, are worth a lingering look. Did Coach Giannini make a few fantastic adjustments to the Explorer's offense, or did the Wildcats, comfortably ahead, facing an opponent that appeared demoralized, and feeling the effects of the third game in six days, drifted a bit and lose focus? How to tell? LaSalle's significant improvement on their offensive boards was most likely the product of a coaching adjustment (and pointed reminders to the frontcourt? Vernon Goodridge grabbed the only Explorer OBoard in the first half; ). Virtually every front court player had at least one rebound in the second half. The La Salle players also did a better job limiting Wildcat offensive boards. The Explorers may have gotten to the line a bit less (proportioanate to their FGAs...), but they converted more efficiently when they got there. That again cannot be laid at the Wildcat's feet. The modest progress on shot defense (eFG%) requires more explanation. The 'Cats shut down scoring opportunities inside the arc. La Salle's 2FGM% split was 52.9/32.0, a significant half-over-half improvement most likely due to coaching adjustments. It did not come without a price though, as the Explorer's 3FGM% increased to 50.0 in the second half. The eFG% change registered as an improvement because La Salle took few attempts from beyond the arc. The strongest evidence of waning Wildcat interest was the decline in free throw shooting efficiency. Given that the scoring difference was +16 in Nova's favor at the 10:00 mark of the second half, and that it dropped to single digits only once (with 0:22 on the clock...), individual Wildcats most likely felt little urgency in making their FTAs.

1. Logging a career high six assists might lead one to mistake forward Antonio Pena for a point guard. Antonio was not efficient from the field, but he did a much better job from the line, going 3-4. He also garnered 6 rebounds (2-4-6), blocked a shot and stole the ball once. Finding a way to be useful when the hand is not hot. Pena has had problems lately, but this will not count as a bad one.
2. Scottie was the #1 option on offense, but Cunningham, Fisher and Stokes were largely tied for the #2 option. Stokes scored a game high 18 points on 6-10 (4-7, 2-3, 2-2) shooting. The scoring distribution is encouraging, largely what many anticipated when the Wildcats start to fire on all cylinders. Reynolds and Stokes provided the outside scoring punch, going 7-12 (.583) from the arc. Inside scoring efficiency came from Fisher and Cunningham. Those two went a combined 8-16 (.500) on 2s.
3. Shane Clark logged another efficient performnance coming off the bench. He logged a 75.0 eFG% on 3-4 shooting. He also snagged 7 rebounds, all defensive boards, to go with a steal and a block. Clark may well have found his role going forward.

Ref Notes
Les Jones, Joe Lindsay and Jamie Luckie ran the crew for this game. For Jones and Luckie this was the second Villanova game (and the second in three games) that they officiated. This one had a better outcome for the 'Cats. Maybe, under the glare of national media they felt the need to be more visible (or maybe Mike Wood is a control freak...), but this crew took a more "let 'em play" approach to the game. There were 46 fouls and 49 free throws in Madison Square Garden last week, and 31 fouls, 34 FTAs in the Gola Arena. The 'Cats did not get the majority of calls, but since this was a road game that is hardly unexpected. The free throw percentage (about 57.1%) was well below the team's season numbers (about %), but given the decline occured in the second half, when the 'Cats had the game in hand, provides more evidence the 'Cats had simply lost focus.

Roster Notes -- Villanova
Another pain-free game. Best news this week. Maurice Sutton was DNP again, virtually certain to red shirt this season.

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