Monday, January 4, 2010

Freshmen of the OOC -- Ten to Watch

Too Early for Rookie of the Year Discussions?
The out of conference portion of the season gives way to the conference season. I was pulling together some player stats going into Big East play and I started to think about some of the players identified in the preseason voting. How were they doing? As I looked through Pomeroy's player ratings I recognized some of the newcomers, saw a few I was unfamiliar with (at least beyond the preseason writups), and a few missing in actions. After extracting the "true freshmen" from the individual team pages I sorted them by playing time (%Min) and eliminated any who had played <30% of the time in their positions. The OOC is a good time to get into the team rhythm, and if a freshman was not logging minutes now, why would he later (absent an injury or recovery)? I then sorted the 15+ remaining players by the percentage of possessions they drew (%Poss), using Oliver and Pomeroy's metric to identify the player's role in the offense (I also looked at percentage of shots taken -- %Shot -- and included that stat in the table below).

D MillerRU53.390.217.714.453.36.819.142.218.931.94.02.0
D TaylorPitt40.6125.917.315.453.819.120.2102.
D CheekNova40.4104.216.818.545.57.69.834.
K WrightPC32.9154.112.014.961.06.612.722.
F HallSHU38.0115.111.611.254.74.512.853.

Top 500 rankings are highlighted with yellow; top 100 rankings by green.

Of Course!
Hardly surprising that the list is headed by Cincinnati's Lance Stephenson and Syracuse's Brandon Triche. Stephenson garnered a good many of the preseason honors and Triche has not been far behind. These two are the marriage of "what is offered" (by the player) with "what is neede" (by the team). Cincinnati, a defense-first squad that could not, outside of Deonta Vaughn, produce a sustained offfensive threat. Stephenson is instant offense. At worst he is a diversion, at best a penetrator and scorer. At the end of regulation against Gonzaga Stephenson took 2 of the Bearcats' last 3 shots (Stephenson was 1-2, Yancy Gates missed the layup that would have ended the game before overtime). Stephenson tied the Xavier game in regulation and sent it into overtime. Stephenson hit the free throws at the end of the Connecticut that broke the tie and won the game for Cincinnati. Brandon Triche steps into the roster spot vacated by Jonny Flynn. Perhaps a year earlier than Coach Boeheim anticipated...and maybe not exactly the role he envisioned, Triche has done a great job for the Orange, leading the team in assists and pulling down a top 500 ranking in that category as well. Transfer Wesley Johnson draws a lot of defensive attention, which provides enough for Triche to convert possessions into points efficiently, another top 500 ranking. And he has established some defensive bonafides with his theft rate as well. Standing for the Rookie of the Year and a place on the All Big East Rookie Team are theirs to lose. Should Cincinnati take a large leap in the Big East rankings this season, it would be hard to deny Stephenson's role in the jump & recognition for his contribution.

The Anticipated Arrivals
A few names on the list are familiar; their arrival has been expected, even planned for a year at least in advance. Their roles within their new team's structure have been defined, all that remains is for them to perform as expected. Coach Dixon knew DeJuan Blair would not exhaust his eligibility, he recruited Dante Taylor believing that if Blair stayed another season Taylor would have a great tutor. And if Blair left Taylor would step into the low post position immediately. Taylor is still a bit light on minutes, but his ranking for rebounds suggest he is filling the Panthers' needs well. As a bonus he does not turn the bal over, scores efficiently (though he is no more than the 4th option when on the court). The second nearly entirely vacated front court since 2007 makes for a terrific opportunity for Alex Oriakhi of the Huskies. Oriakhi was recruited for rebounding and a defensive presence, and by-and-large he has delivered on those assignments, earning top 500 ranking in the things expected of a front court -- rebounding, getting to the free throw line and blocking shots. Connecticut however, appears to be in need of a few more offensive options, and right now Oriakhi, functioning as a 4th/5th offensive option (mostly putbacks) is putting up numbers much like an ordinary freshman. His offensive rating, 92.7 is more typical of an "average" freshman than a top 20 recruit. Villanova's Maalik Wayns & Dominic Cheek are no strangers to the Nova Nation nor the McDonald's committee. Wayns committed to Villanova as a sophomore at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia. And Dom Cheek was courted by North Carolina and Kansas before throwing his lot in the Wildcats. Both knew coming in that Villanova had guards galore already (Reynolds, Redding, Fisher and Stokes) and a coach who was not concerned with defined roles -- he would play 4 guards at a time (and he had 5 on the court briefly against Marquette in Villanova's conference opener) if circumstances warranted. Wayns has posted double digit points 3 times so far this season. So eager to work in Georgetown's system, Hollis Thompson enrolled a semester early (the spring of 2009) and practiced with the team. His contributions are needed as Coach Thompson enters this season with another light roster (eleven players) and another mid-season defection (Nikita Mescheriakov), Thompson's contributions will be to the Hoya's interior defense (see his blocks) and as another efficient option (though well down on the pecking order) on Georgetown's offense.

The Unexpected
Providence's Vincent Council was brought in to play behind senior point guard Sharaud Curry. Curry is having a good season, but Council is logging about 21 minutes a game playing in tandem with Curry and taking the lead guard spot when Curry rests. While he has posted double digit points in 6 outings so far, his 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is most valued by the staff. In the St. John's game on Sunday (1/3) Council scored only 6 points in 29 minutes of play, but managed to dish 6 assists to 3 turnovers (and 3 steals). 6-7 210 pound Dane Miller was not the "name" in the Scarlet Knight's incoming class. But the wing has earned a spot in the rotation, appearing in all 12 games (Sunday 1/3 excluded) so far. If his turnovers (a very freshman-like 31.9%) is a detraction, he makes up for it with rebounds, especially on the defensive side, and his blocks. With sophomore #4 Greg Enchenique sidelined with an injury, Rutgers needs to replace his rebounds somehow. Miller is contributing. Louisville's forward Rakeem Buckles is part of a jig-saw puzzle of wing/front court players that includes fellow freshman Mike Marra, sophomores Jarred Swopshire, Terrence Jennings and Kyle Kuric, and senior Reggie Delk. The staff is spreading around the minutes looking for efficient offense and defense. In Buckles' favor right now, rebounding and efficient (if not exactly take-the-game-over) shooting. Against him, turnovers. There are a few Cardinals who have a turnover problem (a problem that seems to afflict the point guards, freshman Peyton Siva and junior Edgar Sosa, for example).

Wait 'til Next Year
South Florida's Toarlyn Fitzpatrick anticipated playing behind senior Alex Rivas-Sanchez and sophomore Gus Gilchrist this season. Fitzpatrick is starting because his 2 elders are wrapped up with rehabbing injuries right now. Fitzpatrick has to hold the fort until they return sometime in mid-late January. Should he take full advantage of the opportunity however, he may yet carve a spot in the regular rotation. Providence's guard/forward Kyle Wright adds depth to the Friar's complement of Marshon Brooks and Brian McKenzie. At this point in the season he is pulling down about 32% of the minutes. Seton Hall's freshman forward Ferrakohn Hall is something of an early season surprise. There are a few forwards with similar dimensions and more collegiate experience (Stix Mitchell and Jeff Robinson), and sure enough, Hall's playing time has diminished as Memphis transfer Jeff Robinson has become eligible to play. In the 8 games before Robinson became available Hall averaged 16.6 minutes, in the 5 games since, Hall has average 9.4 minutes.

And Then There is...
Every team (maybe Seton Hall excepted) had 1 or 2 true freshmen they believed would contribute immediately. A few teams (Cincinnati & Syracuse and others) are not disappointed. Others are still waiting for their name rookies to get going. Peyton Siva's playing time was probably going to be limited if Edgar Sosa came around. Sosa is still turnover prone (21.7% as of 12/27), but is logging over 60% of the time because (in part) his assists are up (31.0% as of 12/27). And hitting his FGAs at a 60.1% rate (eFG%) is no strike against him. Siva by contrast has played less the 30% of the available minutes and, like Sosa, has a turnover problem (34.3%). 6-1 guard Junior Cadougan was slated to step into Dominic James' shoes (and his legacy?) in the weeks just after classes started at Marquette. An Achilles' tendon rupture has sidelined him for the 2010 season. Villanova's Mouphtaou Yarou was penciled in as the starting #5 virtually from the moment he stepped onto the Mainline. A routine blood test in the days before the Wildcat's Puerto Rico turned up a case of Hepatitis B, sidelining Yarou pending treatment and retesting. Villanova announced he has been cleared medically to play again, and though he sat out Villanova's Big East opener against Marquette, expect to see him logging game minutes soon. His D1 acclimation has been set back about 6 weeks, those who are looking for significant immediate contributions may be disappointed.

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