Thursday, December 18, 2008

Villanova and Connecticut, Side by Side

I had not planned to do another third party comparison this season, but after going through Villanova's numbers from the La Salle game (and reflecting on some comments from Nova Nation fans about the Connecticut-La Salle game...), I decided to see if another side-by-side comparison using Oliver's four factors could provide some insight into the state of the two programs (not to mention what it might tell us about fellow member of the Big 5, La Salle itself). Similar to the shared Albany experience, La Salle played these two Big East teams within a relatively short period of time. Unlike Albany, the Explorers played the Huskies on a neutral court while Villanova traveled to La Salle for their game.

Common OpponentLa Salle 

What We Already Knew (more or less)...
Connecticut has an outstanding offense. The Huskies have established a dominant offensive presence by excelling at each of Oliver's four factors -- they efficiently convert FGAs into points, either by hitting their FGAs (taken mostly by inside the 3 point line), or by getting to the free throw line, they dominate the offensive boards, and take care to conclude most of their possessions with an FGA (they don't turn the ball over very much). Indeed Connecticut, according to Ken Pomeroy's Connecticut Scouting Report is either very good (ranked #25-#75) or elite (#1-#25) in virtually all 4 phases. So their offensive rating versus La Salle (126.5) comes as no surprise. As I went down the check list however, not every element was consistent with what I would expect to find in a game where the Huskies racked up an ORtg North of 120.0. In particular the rate at which they controlled the offensive boards was very average -- the D1 average is 33.3 ("median" team is Toledo at 33.5) -- and well below their season long number (38.2). Villanova's own OR%, 22.2, was also strangely low. Credit the Explorer forwards (and preparation) that they held two good rebounding teams to numbers well off their season long numbers. I was a bit surprised to see a 10.1% theft rate, high I thought, given the strong ball handling reputations of AJ Price and Kimba Walker (they were credited with 7 of Connecticut's 12 turnovers...). Villanova's eFG% was a pleasant surprise, suggesting one of the Wildcat's better shooting efforts. Indeed, a check of the boxscore confirmed that Villanova's "second wave" (Corey Fisher, Reggie Redding and Shane Clark) had an efficient 10-17 from the floor. I wouldn't blame Corey Stokes if he tried to take the Gola Arena rims with him when he exited the La Salle facility -- he shot 6-10 (4-7 in 3FGAs) from the floor and hit both free throw attempts.

What We Discovered...
The average offensive/defensive efficiency rating across D1 is 99.6. Connecticut's defensive rating (DRtg) is 86.7 (that's the raw rating...). Connecticut's DRtg versus La Salle was 115.1 -- that would go down as a loss for most teams on most nights. Against the Explorers, the Huskies were saved by their offense. Blame the lapse on the Huskies' shot defense, an area which UConn normally performs very well. UConn's season long eFG% is 42.6 (good for a #26 ranking), while against La Salle they gave up FGMs at a 52.9% (eFG%) rate. The Explorer's three high (by volume...) scorers, Rodney Green (no shock there), Ruben Guillandeaux and Vernon Goodridge hit a combined 23-41 (2-5 3FGAs) for an overall FGM% of 56.1% and an eFG% of 58.5%. Shockingly prolific and efficient. La Salle's three high scorers versus Villanova, Rodney Green (ah that name again...), Kimmani Barrett and Yves Mbala shot 15-34 (3-10 3FGAs) for an overall FGM% of 44.1% and an eFG% of 48.5% -- still pretty high, but consider these were the three most prolific (and efficient for that matter -- La Salle's eFG% overall was 41.1%). That trio's output represented 67% of La Salle's total point production. Versus Connecticut, La Salle's three most prolific scorers posted about 61% of the Explorer's point production. Goodridge and Guillandeaux incidentally, shot a combined 2-9. Shot defense, normally identified as an area of weakness, was a high point for Nova's defense. Rebounding by contrast was, on defense as well, a disappointing part of Villanova's game.

On virtually any night, a D1 team that posts Connecticut's offensive rating would win. And on most nights (something on the order of 70% of the time...) a team that posted UConn's 115.1 as a defensive rating would lose (the exception of course is the night the offense posts a 127...). Villanova's numbers are almost as reliable. Virtually any team that limits it's opponent to 0.873 points per possession (a defensive rating of 87.3) would win, hands down (Rutgers excepted...). 103.6 is, frankly, a bit more problematic. Given that the D1 efficiency is 99.6 (see above) however, the chances are that more likely than not, that offensive efficiency will result in a win. Very average rebounding, coupled with inconsistent shot defense points to the need for Stanley Robinson (and Ator Majok, if he get qualified). Connecticut's three guard approach, drawn from a pool of AJ Price, Kemba Walker, Jerome Dyson and Craig Austrie (and others...), supplemented by Gavin Edwards, is not enough when confronted with active wings like Barrett, Green and Mbala.

Miscellaneous Notes...
1. I did a double take when I saw that Villanova's defense recorded a 10.7% block rate while UConn only registered an 8.8% rate. Surprising, but a quirk of the statistical method used. Both teams had an identical number of blocks (7), but the Explorers took 56 FGAs against Nova and 68 versus UConn. Given that Green and Guillandeaux took most of the shots, Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut's most prolific shot blocker, had fewer opportunities, his chances coming most likely against Goodridge. I also suspect the La Salle wings and back court players did not venture into the lane much. Steal rates are subject to different numbers of possessions for each game. La Salle had, versus Villanova, the same number of steals as had the Huskies versus the Explorers. Yet each shows a different Stl%. Fewer possessions (or FGAs), the more "valuable/significant" the steal or block.
2. Villanova's inability to get to the line is a little troubling. Nova's offense has typically looked to the free throw line for at least 20% of it's points. In Big East & post season play that rate rises to 23%-26%. Versus La Salle points at the line contributed 11% of the points the 'Cats posted. Blame an away court (and visitor status) perhaps, but Villanova's penetrating offense relies on the line to supply points if the guards don't convert. Consider Marquette's Wesley Matthews against Tennessee (surely you saw the game...). Matthews scored 30 points total, but earned 15 of them at the line (15-18).
3. Vernon Goodridge still confuses Connecticut. Their official box score lists the 6-9, 230 pound junior as a guard.

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