Friday, January 8, 2010

Big East Game Preview -- Cincinnati at Seton Hall

The Pirates of Seton Hall will host the Bearcats of Cincinnati at the Rock in Newark, NJ tomorrow night. With 16% of the conference schedule in the books is it too early to label a game "Must Win"? The Pirates are reeling from a four game losing streak, three coming complements of their Big East schedule. West Virginia, Syracuse and a mid winter road trip to Storrs, Connecticut...followed by a visit from (possibly) the most physical front court in the conference & Born Ready...who did Coach Gonzalez tick off? The Seton Hall/Cincinnati series goes back to 1955 and is knotted at 5. The Hall holds a 3-1 edge in Big East play.

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The Hall & 'Nati shared an opponent this year -- Connecticut:
UConnL (A)-8W (H)+2

Home court might account for a few points (Pomeroy seems to go with around 4 to the home team), but this looks very close. For Cincinnati, good wins include the aforementioned Connecticut game (BE, 11-3, 2-1, #6 RPI), Vanderbilt (SEC, 10-3, #47 RPI) and Maryland (ACC, 8-4, #94 RPI). Cincinnati is saddled with four losses, none are counted as bad though. Seton Hall beat Cornell (Ivy, 11-3, #24 RPI) in Cornell. The Pirates have five losses, none counted as bad.

Lineups, Rotations
Coach Cronin will most likely start Deonta Vaughn (senior pg), Larry Davis (junior off guard), Lance Stephenson (freshman, wing/sf), Ibrahima Thomas (junior transfer, pf) and...the coach has conducted a mini-tryout the past four or so games for the #5. So far Yancy Gates (sophomore), Anthony McClain (junior) and Steven Toyloy (senior) have had one start apiece in Cincinnati's three Big East conference games. Who starts against the Pirates? Gates had a mediocre 10 minutes versus CS Bakersfield, after posting a double-double in the Pittsburgh game. Toyloy has been a very reliable (if somewhat pedestrian) in his 15 games (and 7 starts) this season. He averages 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds. When Coach Cronin went 'tweener against Cal State Bakersfield, he started Rashad Bishop (junior, #3) and brought Davis in off the bench. In all, eight players -- five mentioned above Vaughn, Stephenson, Gates, Toyloy and Bishop, plus Cashmire Wright (red shirt freshman pg), Dion Dixon (sophomore #2) and Darnell Wilks (junior forward) -- have appeared in all 15 of Cincinnati's games this season. Thomas has appeared in every game for which he was eligible, and Larry Davis (a sometime starter) has appeared in 14 of 15 games, giving Coach Cronin a deep bench and a rotation of (at least) ten players. That does not include situational substitutes like reserve center Anthony McLean who, like Davis, started at least one game this season.

Coach Gonzalez will (according to game notes) start Keon Lawrence (junior transfer from Missouri) at the #1, Jeremy Hazell (junior) at the #2, Jeff Robinson (junior transfer from Memphis) at the #3, Herb Pope (junior transfer from New Mexico) at the #4 and John Garcia (senior) at the #5. Lawrence started at Connecticut after coming off the bench and Robinson has received minutes in virtually every game since becoming eligible after sitting a year per NCAA transfer rules. Both officially joined the roster before the Hall's 12/19 game with Temple (a 71-65 loss). Also certain to see minutes, Eugene Harvey (senior), a starter at the #1 for virtually his entire career, Jordan Theodore (sophomore combo guard), Jamel Jackson (junior JUCO, #2 guard), Robert "Stix" Mitchell (junior small forward) and Ferrakohn Hall (freshman #3/#4). Each has appeared in every Hall game this season. If Coach Gonzalez needs more than ten players, he can bring in Mel Oliver, a 6-10, 340 pound center and walk-ons Matt Cajuste or Darnell Gatling, a 5-9 pocket rocket. This is the deepest (and most talented) squad Coach Gonzalez has assembled during his 4 years at the Hall.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Cincinnati lacked a consistent scoring threat last season. Deonta Vaughn is very good, but no one else was consistent enough to draw serious attention. With the game on the line everyone knew who would get the ball and take the last shot. That Cincinnati did not have a true point guard (Cashmire Wright was injured before the season and applied for a red shirt) only complicated matters for Coach Cronin (though it simplified matters for the Bearcats' opponents, Vaughn was not going to run around a screen for a catch-and-shoot...he was the one with the ball). Cincinnati's eFG% has improved slightly over last season, Stephenson brings prolific scoring even as he draws defensive attention.

When the Bearcats have the ball...FTA
'Nati O49.115920.012338.04229.2317
Hall D44.75120.220033.217932.180

Vaughn however, still saddled with ball handling responsibilities, has a modest slump with his 3 point shooting. Vaughn is not a point guard, and has struggled with turnovers throughout his career. Concerns about Vaughn and Stephenson being able to share the ball appear to this point, to be unfounded as both are ranked in Pomeroy's top 500 for assist rates (maybe they pass to each other...). Offensive rebounding is crucial to Cincinnati; if the Bearcats miss the shot, chances are very good they will get a 2nd chance. For an offense that is not converting at a 50% or better rate, 2nd chance opportunities are important. While Cincinnati is "fairly average" at taking care of the ball, Seton Hall, with ball hawks like Paul Gause having moved on, is not particularly aggressive with take-aways.

The "Four Factors" look at Seton Hall's offense versus Cincinnati's defense:

When the Pirates have the ball...FTA
Hall O49.813414.8238.33636.6175
'Nati D43.12019.623028.33134.5126

Note the contrasts -- The Hall shoots pretty well, but Cincinnati defends very well. The game may turn on whether the Bearcats can shut down Seton Hall's shooters (Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope). There will be a war under the Hall's basket. The Pirates are a good offensive rebounding team (which makes their shooting even more effective), but the Bearcats are equally well-regarded as a defensive rebounding team.

Want to Beat the Bearcats? Then...
1. Get a hand in their face. When Cincinnati shoots worse than 45% (eFG%) they are 3-3. When they shoot better than 45% (eFG%) they are 8-1. When the Pirates allow their opponents a conversion rate better than 45% (eFG%) they are 3-5.
2. No second chances -- if the Bearcats miss, get the caroom. Cincinnati is ranked #6 in conference for offensive rebounding rates (38.3% overall). The Bearcats are 3-3 when opponents limit them to <39.0% of their misses. This is not a point of emphasis for the Pirates, as they are ranked #10 for defensive rebounding rates (32.5%), though only one opponent (Syracuse) has rebounded better than 39% against them (one of the Hall losses).
3. Keep them off the line. The Bearcats get to the line about 3 times for every 10 FGAs. When their FTA/FGA is < 30.0, they are 4-4 (& 7-0 when they get there =>30). This is another problem area for the Pirates, as they, on average, put their opponent on the line about once for every three FGAs (the stat maybe inflated by change-of-possession fouls).

Want to Beat the Hall? Then...
1. Make them miss. The Pirates record when held to Cincinnati's defensive eFG% or less is 1-4, when they shoot to their average or better, their record is 7-1. Their offense will most likely go through Jeremy Hazell, the Pirates' junior wing. Hazell gets about 28% of the Hall's possessions when he is on the court, and will take 34.6% of the shots when he is on the floor. For those who think Hazell is a ball hog, consider that he scores about 1.19 points per possession, better than the team's 1.11 conversion rate, an extremely unusual situation, particularly for a high-possession player. Herb Pope will be the second option, as the transfer will take about 25% of the possessions and 21% of the shots when he is on the floor. If Pope and Hazell are in together, the chances are excellent one of the two will have the ball in his hands (and will take a shot).
2. No 2nd chances. When the Hall is held to their offensive rebounding rate (or less), they are 2-4. When they exceed their average they are 7-1. Given that Cincinnati is very good at limiting 2nd chance opportunities, this will be the battle to watch.

...This game will pit strengths against strengths - shooting versus shot defense, offensive rebounding versus defensive rebounding. Who calls this game could be very important. A "Let 'em play" crew would probably favor the Bearcats (those rebounding wars...Herb Pope is a terrible free throw shooter 38.2% conversion rate...that's not a typo, he hits less than ½ of his FTAs). Ken Pomeroy gives the Pirates a slight (3 point) nod -- that's less than the homecourt advantage.

I will be blogging live from the game at the Rock for the Rush the Court Blog. Stop over (I will launch a few minutes before the 6:00 tip off) and join the chat.

Other Sources
Game Notes from Cincinnati.

No comments: