Saturday, January 31, 2009

Preview -- Cincinnati

Villanova hosts Cincinnati at the Pavilion for the second time since Cincinnati joined the Big East. The teams first met (in Cincinnati) in 1947, Villanova the 70-68. Villanova holds a 3-1 edge in the series...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Bearcats faced three common opponents so far. All three, St. John's, Louisville and South Florida, are conference mates:

St. John'sW (H)+19W (A)+11
MarquetteL (A)-7L (A)-34
ConnecticutL (A)-6L (H)-9

Cincinnati (Big East, 13-7, 4-4, RPI #59) has 4 wins against Top 100 competition. Their best win was their last game, a home win against Georgetown (Big East, 12-7, 3-5, RPI #19), but other notable wins include home wins over UAB (CUSA, 13-8, RPI #46) & Mississippi St. (SEC, 13-6, RPI #88), and a road win against UNLV (MWC, 16-4, RPI #45). While Cincinnat has not been tagged with a "bad loss", they did drop both ends of their home-n-away with Providence (14-6, 6-2, RPI #61). I am not sure how that will affect standings in case of a tie breaker, but note that Villanova too has a home-n-away with Providence this season...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Like virtually every Big East team this season, Head Coach Mick Cronan has had to shuffle his rotation in the face of injuries. For the Bearcats the loss of well regarded freshman point guard Cashmire Wright just before the start of the season meant he had to shift junior Deonta Vaughn (6-1, 195lbs) back to the point. Vaughn had moved over to the #2 when Jamal Warren stepped in to pick up the ball handling tasks last season. The combination worked well and Cronan had hoped to continue the system with Wright. Instead Vaughn handles the ball while Cronan gives either sophomore Larry Davis (6-3, 180lbs) or freshman Dion Dixon (6-3, 180lbs) the nod at the #2. Davis has started over Dixon in the Big East games (so far), but Dixon gets his minutes, lately ranging upwards of 30 minutes. Vaughn is the 1st option on offense. He will take 1 in 4 of the Bearcat's shots when he is on the court (and he is on > 80% of the time). Dixon and Davis have both posted multiple double digit outings, though Dixon appears to have the hot hand of late. While both are classified on Ken Pomeroy's Team Page as role players, they are efficient (but not extremely efficient) scorers. They are about equally likely to take a 3FGA, Davis is a touch more accurate.

Coach Cronan will start red shirt senior transfer Mike Williams (6-7, 240lbs) and sophomore Rashad Bishop (6-6, 220lbs) in the frontcourt. Coach Cronan has tinkered with the last starting spot. For the past four games he has started junior JUCO Steven Toyloy (6-8, 255lbs) at the #5, but he has also started freshman Yancy Gates (6-9, 225lbs) in that spot. No matter which starts, the other will get between 15 & 25 minutes. Cronan seems to favor a rotation of 9 to 10 players (usually 9), and those last two spots have conisently gone to two sophomores, Alvin Mitchell (6-5, 215lbs) and Darnell Wilkes (6-7, 195lbs). Any more time to divvy up, and Wildcat fans may see senior guard Brandon Miller (6-4, 195lbs). But that would most likely mean either team is in bad, bad trouble.

Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, Dwayne Anderson and Scottie Reynolds will start for the Wildcats. The last spot will likely go to junior Reggie Redding, the 5th starter for the South Florida & Pittsburgh games. Redding led the team in points scored versus Pitt (18) while posting a 1.67 PPWS with an eFG% of 66.7, hitting 4 of 6 FGAs & a perfect 10-10 from the line. The 'Cats will need that type of accuracy from the line as Nati is reputed to be a physical team. The two Coreys (Fisher or Stokes), along with senior Shane Clark, his wrist still secured in a flexible cast, will definitely see time as well. Cunningham & Pena avoided foul trouble against Pittsburgh, despite the Panthers physical style of play. This game promises to be physical as well, so the staff may again call on senior reserve Frank Tchuisi to put in some time. Clark and Redding led the team in rebounds against the bigger Panther squad.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Nati plays for about 65.6 possessions, ranking it just abit below average (67.1) for D1 teams. Their (adjusted) offensive/defensive rating, 106.3/94.1 (per Ken Pomeroy's Team Page, ranks them well above average among the D1 teams. Their defense (ranked #63) is a bit ahead of their offense (ranked #92). They are good, but the 'Cats are a better at both ends of the floor. A look at the "numbers underneath" give us an idea of what Cincinnati does well (and why they are ranked where they are).

When Cincinnati has the ball...
Bearcat O48.421.442.431.0
Wildcat D44.922.129.637.6

The Bearcats are a bit below average at converting FGAs efficiently (eFG% is ranked #188), they are mediocre at protecting the ball (TO% is ranked #216) and not especially strong at getting to the line (FTA/FGA is ranked #280), but they are among the D1 elites at rebounding under their basket (OR% is ranked #4). And that skill masks their conversion rate by providing a host of 2nd (and 3rd?) opportunities for scoring. Given that Nova is not too shabby at defensive rebounding (OR% is 29.6, ranked #50), expect another battle under the (Bearcat's) basket. Cincinnati takes about 31% of their FGAs as 3s, a bit higher than the average D1 squad. They are not adept, however, at hitting either their 2s or their 3s, converting about 47.5% of their 2FGAs, and about 1 in 3 of their 3FGAs. That is where their rebounding helps them. Turnovers should be interesting. Nova has not pressed much lately, but the Bearcats, given that Vaughn has a somewhat mediocre TO% of 22.7 (significant because he handles about 1 in 4 possessions) and of Nati's two backcourt alternatives only Dixon is clearly better. From the rotation, only Gates (at 13.8 he is ranked among the Top 250), Dixon (16.3) and Williams (19.1) lose fewer than 1 in 5 of their possessions. The Wildcats have forced turnovers a bit better than the average D1 defense (ranked #104), suggesting they may have some success against Cincinnati. The only The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Cincinnati's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.618.435.742.9
Bearcat D46.320.633.532.5

The Wildcats will look for their points inside the arc, which the Bearcats have proven a littly better at defending than beyond the arc. The Wildcat's proficiency at getting their own misses has declined steadily over the course of their Big East play. The Bearcats are an "average" team at defensive rebounding. The 'Cats rely on points from the line for about 1 in 4 of their total, while the Bearcats are used to yeilding only 1 in 5 of their opponent's points from the charity stripe...

Want to Beat the Bearcats? Then...
Shooting emerges as a critical factor for both squads. But the Bearcats appear to be sensitive to turnovers as well. Villanova secondary factors appears to include effectively limiting opponent's second chance points
1. Defend their shooting -- When the Bearcats shoot to an eFG% of 44.9 (Nova's defensive eFG%) they are 1-5. When they shoot to less than 50.0% they are 5-6.
2. Hit your shots -- Nova's record when they have converted at 44.0 or better is 15-2. When the Bearcat's opponents convert at 50.6 or better (Nova's eFG%), they are 2-3.
3. Force turnovers -- When their turnover rate is 22.1 or worse, the Bearcats were 6-5. When they lost more than a quarter of their possessions they were 1-3.
4. Value the ball -- When the Bearcat's opponents' TO% was 18.1 or less, the Bearcats were 5-4. When the 'Cats had a TO% of 20.6 or lower they were 10-2.
5. Limit 2nd Chance Opportunities -- When the Bearcats were limited to less than their average (42.4), they went 6-7.

...Unlike Villanova, Cincinnati is very deep on size and front court players, but a bit thin in the back court. Their play, it follows, is physical and controlling, but with Vaughn, Davis and Dixon to shoot 3s, this should be more than just a low post wrestling match. Pena and Cunningham will need to stay on the court for the Wildcats to have all elements of their offense and defense available.

According to calculations, this game should go for about 65 possessions, with Villanova on top by 11 points. The margin and confidence level (85%) suggests this is a game the 'Cats are expected to win. The similar records (Nova is 4-3 and Nati is 4-4), suggest Villanova needs a win to push Cincinnati away, and lend credibility to their win over Pitt.

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