Saturday, January 17, 2009

Preview -- St. John's

Villanova and St. John's renew their series Sunday, as the Red Storm travels to the Pavilion for the 101st meeting between the two teams in a series that dates back to the 1922-23 season, the Wildcat's 3rd season of record keeping. The two teams met annually (with the single exception of 1935...) until the 1939-40 season when Villanova, uneasy about the influence of gambling on the NCAA schools, stopped scheduling opponents into the Philadelphia Convention Center (Philadelphia's largest indoor arena, a facility operated by the same interests as New York City's Madison Square Garden). The series resumed in 1954, around the same time as the start of the Big 5, an occasion when Philadelphia's other Convention Center schools (La Salle, Temple and St. Joseph's) also reconciled with Villanova and Penn. If Temple is the longest running series with Villanova (Temple records games dating back to 1905), St. John's is Villanova's most frequently played opponent. St. John's leads the series 58-42 (.580), but Villanova has run off 4 straight wins, and is 7-3 in the last 10...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Red Storm (Big East, 10-6, RPI #124) have no common opponents so far (they will as the season progresses). The Johnnies' best win so far (by far...) is their 71-65 home victory over Notre Dame (Big East, 12-4, RPI #61) last Saturday. Next best has to be the Cornell (Ivy, 8-6, RPI #111) game. St. John's is 1-6 against Top 100 RPI teams -- all of their losses to date have been to Top 100 teams. Their worst loss was on the road against Providence (Big East 11-5, RPI #80)...

Lineups, Rotations...
...St. John's Coach Norm Roberts experimented with his starters and rotation early on in the season when he had the luxury of easier opponents. By New Year's he had pretty much settled on Malik Boothe (Soph, 5-9, 185lbs) & Paris Horne as his starters at #1 and #2 respectively. Then Malik Boothe followed senior forward Anthony Mason (6-7, 209lbs) to the trainer's table. Into the breech stepped freshman Quincy Roberts (6-5, 190lbs) to pair with sophomore Paris Horne (6-3, 180lbs) give the Red Storm their back court. The pair has started the last five games.

Coach Roberts faced a similar set of challenges staffing the Johnnies' front court. Going into the season senior Anthony Mason Jr and sophomore Justin Burrell were the favorites to start. Mason is injured and has not played since the Boston College game (the 3rd game of the season). This is the second consecutive season Mason has lost significant time to injury. He may have to redshirt. Burrell missed two games near the end of the year, but returned to the rotation 5 games ago (versus Miami). His fellow sophomores, DJ Kennedy (6-6, 208lbs), a graduate of Pittsburgh's Schenley HS and former teammate of Pitts' DaJuan Blair, along with Sean Evans (6-8, 242lbs), a Philadelphian, have proved more reliable than Burrell and Mason. Burrell (6-8, 235lbs), Evans and Kennedy will start in St. John's front court. Expect the Storm's starting five (Roberts, Horne, Kennedy, Burrell and Evans) to take at least 75% of the minutes, though in their 4 Big East games to date those 5 have taken at least 80% of the available minutes. Relief comes in the form of freshman guard TyShwan Edmondson (6-4, 175lbs) in the back court, and redshirt sophomore forward Rob Thomas (6-6, 235lbs) along with (true) sophomore Dele Coker (6-10, 270lbs) in the front court. All have gotten consistent minutes (Edmondson especially since Boothe's injury), often logging >9 minutes per game. Deeper bench contributors include senior center Tomas Jasiulionis (6-11, 249lbs) and freshman center Phil Wait (7-1, 245lbs), though an appearance by either would suggest a blowout is in progress.

Villanova will start Scottie Reynolds in the back court and Dante Cunningham in the front court. Beyond those two Coach Wright will look to one of sophomores Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes or junior Reggie Redding to complete the Wildcat's back court. Senior Dwayne Anderson and sophomore Antonio Pena will most likely start alongside Cunningham in the front court. Senior Shane Clark rounds out the front court rotation. Clark has not started this season. The rotation has not gone deeper than those eight since the La Salle game back in mid December.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
St. John's under Norm Roberts has become a defense-first team that punches the ball inside and plays at a steady, if measured, pace. Until this season. Whether the Red Storm is pushing the ball up the court (better ball handlers with Quincy Roberts, Malik Boothe and Paris Horne?) or becoming more confident finding a shot earlier in their offensive sets can only be determined by comparing game films from season to season. But they are getting (according to Pomeroy) about 68.6 (adjusted according to Pomeroy's New Scout Report, slightly above the average for D1 (about 67.3), and between 3 and 5 more possessions than they have gotten over the past 3 or so seasons. Their (raw) pace through their first four Big East games (about 69.7) suggests the higher pace is not the after effect of their OOC schedule. Offense-to-defense comparisons (John's to 'Cats) shows a few interesting statitiscal matchups...

When St. John's has the ball...
 FTA
eFG%TO%OR%FGA
Johnnie O47.920.738.235.3
Wildcat D44.722.029.134.3

St. John's does not look for 3 point shooting much, as 3FGAs account for about 1 in 4 of their FGAs. There is a reason for this -- they hit about 1 in 5 of their 3FGAs, one of the worst percentages (#324) in all D1 ball. They do not, however, appear to miss those points much, as about 1 in 6 points come from 3 point FGMs, again, one of the lowest dependencies (#335) in D1 ball. They distribute scoring opportunities fairly evenly among Horne, Burrell, Evans and Kennedy (when they are on the court). Aside from Roberts, most everyone in the rotation will get a shot sooner or later. Horne and Kennedy are their outside threats, though neither is a sharpshooter. There is a battle shaping up under the Red Storm's basket. Each team is ranked #38 (near elite-level) in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%). The Johnnies are used to pulling down better than 1 in 3 misses for a second chance, while the 'Cats are used to holding opponents to less than 3 in 10 second chances opportunities (via rebounds). Expect Rob Thomas (when he is on the court) and Sean Evans to lead the way, but the entire St. John's back court contingent (Horne, Kennedy, Roberts & Edmondson) are better than average rebounders. Matching up for the Wildcats will be Cunningham and Pena, both ranked in Pomeroy's Top 500, and the rotation of Redding, Stoke, Anderson and Clark, all of whom are better than average (according to Pomeroy) on the defensive boards. Given the Storm's mediocre eFG% (47.9, ranked #199) versus Nova's "pretty good" shot defense (declining as the Big East season progresses...), those second chance opportunities (or lack of same) may become crucial to the outcome. The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus St. John's defense:
When Villanova has the ball...
 FTA
eFG%TO%OR%FGA
Wildcat O49.917.836.641.8
Johnnie D47.121.834.233.4


Villanova's field goal efficiency (eFG%) has been declining steadily over the course of the Big East season, this game will again match a team with a better field goal defense than Villanova's eFG%. Whether this translates into another ugly shooting performance may depend on how Reynolds, Stokes, Anderson and Clark are shooting from the outside, as the Storm is a bit below average on 3 point defense (ranked #201). Caring for the ball to maximize possessions, a Villanova trademark over the years, should not be tested against St. John's, as the Red Storm is not given to forcing large numbers of turnovers. And St. John's may not give the Wildcats too much of a struggle under Villanova's boards. Second chance points should be available if Pena, Clark and Anderson can neutralize Kennedy, Burrell and Evans (and Thomas & Coker when they are in)...

Want to Beat St. John's? Then...
While their offense is better this season, their defense has taken a (small) step back. Consistent with Villanova's first 3 Big East opponents, field goal efficiency plays the dominant role in separating the winner and the loser. And according to Pomeroy's Game Plan analysis of Oliver's Four Factors for each of Villanova and St. John's, offensive rebounding should also influence the outcome.
1. Defend their shooters. St. John's has recorded an eFG% of 50.0 or less in 10 games this season (not particularly good). They are 4-6 in those games. Hold them to <48.0 and they drop to 2-4.
2. Control the defensive boards. If they don't shoot well it stands to reason they need second chances (the Nova Nation has seen this with the 'Cats...), and sure enough, when St. John's has been held to <37.0 on their offensive boards (OR%) they have gone 1-5. This is especially important to the Storm when you consider they don't shoot 3s.
3. Convert FGAs. St. John's is 1-5 when opponents score an eFG% >48.4. Villanova has shot at that level in 5 games this season, going 4-1 in those games (the exception was Marquette). When shooting >44.0 they have gone 6-2.
4. Control the offensive boards. When Villanova's OR% has been >34.0 (just above the D1 average), they are 9-0. When St. John's allows opponents to get that OR%, they have gone 1-5.

Finally...
...The Johnnies bring a team whose starting line up bears more than a passing resemblence to Villanova's -- 2 6-8ish forwards in the front court, two (or so) 6-5/6-6ish guard/forwards on the wing and scorers in the back court. If the 'Cats play a more deliberate game, the Red Storm looks to score in transition & punch it inside at every opportunity. And both have been accused of offering indifferent/ineffectual defense of their 3 point lines. The difference is that Nova will shoot the three (and have a few players who, though a bit streaky, can hit at that distance...). That, and the home court, should help the Wildcats. Antonio Pena needs to stay on the court against St. John's. Nova does not need his scoring (though points from anyone in addition to Cunningham & Reynolds is greatly appreciated) as much as they need his rebounding.

Coach Wright will, should the game be competitive throughout, use between 7 & 8 players. And if Corey Stokes or Dwayne Anderson can find the range, expect Nova to maintain a comfortable scoring margin (and the more accurate forward to draw the larger portion of minutes).

Calculations indicate the game should be played for about 66 possessions (Villanova's comfort zone), with Villanova on top by about 14 points. Nova has had difficulty performing to expectations, especially against teams they are rated to beat by double digits. While I expect the 'Cats will take this decision (which will bring the series to 58-43 St. John's), it will stay close if St. John's plays hard throughout.

1 comment:

David said...

Well done. Great read and statistical analysis. I will be linking this to my site and I know Pico over at East Coast Bias already has.

Dave
JohnnyJungle.com