Friday, November 27, 2009

Puerto Rico Tip Off -- What We Learned

PR Packing List...Sneakers? Check. Unis? Check. Basketballs? Check. Defense? Check. Offense? Offense?
I managed to catch the final of the Puerto Rico Tip Off on Sunday, the third time this season I have been able to catch a Villanova game. The competition, Mississippi, a more talented and athletic squad than the first two I saw (FDU and Penn), gave the Wildcats a more competitive game. I wanted to see the 'Cats play without Mouphtaou in the paint. I had broken down the box scores from the first two rounds and, absent Yarou, the numbers were not what I expected. The Villanova team that went to Philadelphia International was an offensive juggernaut, able to score outside and inside with ease. The defense was terrific, coming along well, but the squad's calling card was an offensive assault that threatened to score from (literally) anywhere on the court. The staff has an array of scorers who can pass it inside to the low post where any one of three players can finish, quick guards who can scrape by a high post screen and take it down the lane themselves, or a couple of artillery spotters whose range runs from the locker room door in. If Scottie's motor was still warming up, there were nine other players in the rotation who seemed not at all shy about taking the shot, and more often than not, able to finish the play.

According to KenPom & Oliver...
I compiled a "four factors" look at the field, as they performed in Puerto Rico. The data is sorted by won-loss record and then by efficiency difference (Defensive Rating subtracted from Offensive Rating).

Geo Tech69.7102.153.626.443.453.191.744.221.629.331.610.4
Kansas St.71.7110.051.019.940.472.0107.553.121.431.052.72.5
Geo Mason70.793.844.321.229.348.196.644.323.541.566.1-2.8
Boston U.72.795.139.719.129.458.2106.552.318.331.155.9-11.4
Std Dev3.

For those curious about the stats used, check Ken Pomeroy's explanation. Since no team played even ½ of the field, and given early hour of the season, I am reluctant to use the weekend results to draw broad conclusions about what will happen in March (or February, or January, or...), but as a closed system & a twelve game sample played over a long weekend, I did find a few of the numbers and outcomes interesting.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Looking over the brackets when they were first announced, I thought Villanova's seed and draw looked a lot like the fuzzy end of a lollipop. George Mason is from the CAA, but the Patriots seemed to be a more difficult first round draw than Boston University, or even Indiana. Facing either Georgia Tech or Dayton in the 2nd round (win or lose) seemed to offer no reward for an upset in the other pairing. The opposite bracket teams however ended up with a better cumulative record (5-4 vs 4-5), Villanova's sweep, and Indiana's skid aside. The brackets split their 3rd round, crossover games(Villanova & Georgia Tech won, Dayton & Mason lost). Through the first two games of the season and a somewhat similar set of circumstances in 2008 (back court then instead of front court), it seemed Villanova had a scoring machine with certain defensive question marks. For those watching the games and breaking down the box scores though, the conclusion for this weekend is quite the opposite. Villanova took this tournament on the back of it's defense.

Virtually all four areas of Villanova's defense showed up last weekend. The Wildcats put up some very good shot defense numbers (eFG% under defense above) -- 3rd among the 8 teams and below the average for the tournament. Villanova forced turnovers (ranked 2nd in the field) while controlling the defensive boards. Their defensive rebounding was best in the field, and well above the average of the field. They did a credible job keeping their opponenets off of the free throw line, posting below the average numbers for free throw attempts per field goal attempts even as they were ranked 3rd in the field in that category. If the Wildcats did not win their George Mason game until their last possession, the Patriots had their worst rebounding day -- on both ends of the floor -- in 2010. Dayton may have been down 2 with less than 2 minutes to go, but the Flyers posted their worst shot conversion efficiency numbers of the tournament. And their rebounding, at both ends of the floor, was the also a team worst for the tournament -- by a large (7 - 10 points) margin. For Mississippi the story was much the same. The Rebs posted their worst turnover, shot conversion and offensive rebounding percentages of the tournament, indeed of the season.

Observations & Gross Generalizations
1. Georgia Tech's numbers coming out of the tournament are impressive, until you realize they posted 2/3s of those totals against George Mason and Boston University. The gaudiest of their numbers came compliments of a 22 point blowout of a Boston University team that was severely shot-challenged in that game. The Terrier's eFG% was 39.5, even as their offensive rebounding rate (OR%) was 21.8%, a very low rate indeed. Against the only experienced front court team they faced in the tournament, the Jackets' offensive only yielded 0.87 points per possession, despite strong offensive rebounding.
2. For newly minted head coach Pat Chambers and his Boston University squad, the tournament, despite the 1-2 finish, had some positive points. The Terriers dropped their opener to Kansas State by a respectable 10 points and beat high-major Indiana before being blown out (85-67) by Georgia Tech in the 5th place game. The Terriers are one of 3 teams expected to fight it out for the American East Conference bid to the NCAAs, and this tournament experience can only help.
3. Dayton has a lot of work to do, despite the lofty preseason reviews. The Flyers were a top 30 offensive rebounding and a top 75 defensive rebounding team last season, but were ineffective on the defensive boards in all three Puerto Rico games, and limited offensively in 2 of their 3 games. Dayton's defensive efficiency declined game-by-game through each round of the tournament, a troubling sign for Coach Gregory.
4. Indiana has a long way to go, despite strides by Coach Tom Crean in the off season. Crean is Indiana's 3rd head coach since Bob Knight's departure in 2000, each coaching turnover brings turmoil and distractions to the legendary program. While the Hoosiers were competitive their 2nd and 3rd round losses to Boston University (by 4 points) and George Mason (by 3 points), their 1st round blowout at the hands of Mississippi (18 points) suggests Coach Crean may have to recruit yet another outstanding class before the Hoosiers will have enough talent to turn the corner. This is supposed to be an up season for the Big Ten, so improvements may be unrecognized when the team record remains unchanged or only modestly changed from 2009.
5. The pace for the Villanova-Mississippi, at 85 possessions, was ridiculously high, exhibition-season high. Villanova has been playing games in the low-mid 70s, while the Rebels have been mid 70s into the low 80s. The game then, was played at Mississippi's pace. The Wildcats posted their best defensive "four factors" numbers of the tournament in that last game, especially heartening given Yarou's non-participation and uncertain medical status going forward. Despite having an incomplete rotation, and dealing with last minutes personnel changes, the squad responded well through the three games.

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