Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rising Seniors -- Nine to Watch

What I Am Looking For
Austin Freeman won't make this list. Neither will Jimmy Butler nor Tim Abromaitis. They are names already; they made one of the "All Big East" Teams last March. Everybody knows them, and everyone will have them on their "Best in" or "Top" list in the next three months. They are already a bullet on ESPN's "Keys to the Game" pre-game analysis, and will probably continue their bullet status this season. They made their marks during their freshmen or sophomore or junior seasons. Those "name" guys decided to come back and...
a. Finish their education;
b. Improve their draft status;
c. Help their team win a Big East Championship/NCAA Championship;
d. Savor one last year of...before heading out into the world to earn a living;
e. All of the above.

Corey Fisher, Jeremy Hazell and the other recognized junior and senior players, veterans all, make the Big East Conference the best conference for watching basketball. But every season a Hilton Armstrong, or an Andy Rautins, a Jon Wallace or a Dante Cunningham lands in the national press (and picks up a post season Big East award or two) seemingly out of nowhere. Invisible to many except their team's fans, these seniors tend to start somewhere back in that freshman pack, or labor in the vineyards of a low ranking team, but unlike their classmates, they (and their team?) improve quietly every season. By Pomeroy's classification system they may start as a "Role", "Limited Role" or even "Invisible" player, and grow into a "Major" or "Go-to Guy" player over the course of their four years. Pomeroy discusses growth "probabilities" in "Putting Individual Efficiency into Perspective" over at The Basketball Prospectus back in 2007. These guys tend to push at the upper limit of their growth curve each season. The Jon Wallaces and Orinze Onuakus -- are drawing a good share of the minutes at their position going into their senior seasons and they are drawing somewhere between 18% - 20% of the possessions when they are on the floor. They may lurk off the MSM's radar, but their teammates know who they are, look for them on the floor...and trust them with the ball.

On Offense...
Marshon BrooksPC66.2113.922.825.91.10
Scoop JardineCuse55.6113.622.620.71.15
Antonio PenaNova61.9112.320.318.11.22
Chris WrightGTown87.8111.723.224.41.14
Gilbert BrownPitt39.3110.923.223.51.19
D.J. KennedyJohn's77.4110.425.823.51.15
Rick JacksonCuse65.7108.619.619.01.16
Brad WanamakerPitt79.6105.824.721.01.08
Dwight HardyJohn's48.1102.423.728.01.06

Marshon Brooks fits the profile, each season his role with the Friars has, for the most part, grown. Securing 22.5% of the possessions and over a quarter of the shots last season would put Brooks on an "All" team if his team finished 0.500 or better in conference play. The Friars didn't, and Brooks will probably put in his last season playing for a team that may well post fewer than the four "W"s they earned in conference play in 2010. Pitt's Gilbert Brown is another outlier. I set 40% as the cutoff for consideration this season, largely on the notion that if the player had not been able to draw that many minutes, there must be some other coach-player issue at work. Brown actually logged about 58.8% of the PT as soon as he became academically eligible. His numbers through what was obviously the toughest part of Pittsburgh's schedule were impressive. Each season Brown has faced a challenge putting in an entire season, and when he could (his sophomore season) there was a logjam at his spot. If he can stay healthy, this might well be the payout year for those among the Pitt faithful who did not falter. Everyone knows Chris Wright out of Georgetown already, but this is one reason I prefer the more traditional, five player "All Team" recognition. Had the voters had 22 slots (instead of 15) to fill, Wright would definitely made it. Rush the Court's Zach Hayes ranks Wright #9 on his Big East Top 20 list. After a red shirt year (injury), and a prolonged un-mentored "orientation" sophomore season Wright's role and efficiency has improved each season. I was not sure about Villanova's Antonio Pena, while his shooting efficiency stats are strong (and his offensive rebounding rate is outstanding) his "share" of shot taking is a little light at 18.1%. That the staff tended to limit his minutes in tight games is not reassuring either. But Pena is a senior, and Villanova's staff tend to hand a good deal of responsibility to their upperclassmen. 'Tone is a solid player who can be very good (when he holds onto the ball). Maybe he needs a little faith...in himself.

Four Factors...
Marshon BrooksPC66.253.16.514.923.1
Scoop JardineCuse55.653.41.921.439.5
Antonio PenaNova61.957.710.420.461.4
Chris WrightGTown87.852.62.116.535.7
Gilbert BrownPitt39.356.04.717.950.3
D.J. KennedyJohn's77.452.36.218.649.0
Rick JacksonCuse65.759.112.721.234.1
Brad WanamakerPitt79.648.06.321.357.8
Dwight HardyJohn's48.

Check out Rick Jackson's offensive rebounding rate (OR%). The "average" varies by position, and offensive systems can emphasize offensive rebounding (Villanova's) or de-emphasize it (Michigan) depending on the priorities set by the staff. According to Ken Pomeroy 21.4 was the highest in Division 1, 12.8 is Top 100 and 8.7 is Top 500. In any system 10 is very good, and Jackson grabbed 12.7% of the offensive boards when he was in the game. For both Jackson and teammate Scoop Jardine (and Pitt's Brad Wannamaker and Villanova's Pena...) was turnovers. In a low possession system (Pitt/Wannamaker) that can be a killer. For Jardine the redeeming attribute was his assist rate (Top 50 per Pomeroy); for Jackson, it was his rebounding, at both ends of the court.

Marshon BrooksPC10.
Scoop JardineCuse32.
Antonio PenaNova7.521.02.32.2
Chris WrightGTown22.
Gilbert BrownPitt17.910.91.01.3
D.J. KennedyJohn's21.516.32.22.2
Rick JacksonCuse11.
Brad WanamakerPitt31.314.00.92.3
Dwight HardyJohn's8.

St. John's duo DJ Kennedy and Dwight Hardy labored long and hard last season. Kennedy has been a Johnny for three seasons, and worked every season to put the Red Storm into the conferences' upper division. Hardy transferred in, sat a season and will play his second and final season in Queens. St. John's fans have valued Kennedy's scoring efficiency and hustle, while lamenting his (occasional) lapses in situational judgement. The problem may be correctable if, with that last timeout in a game, the staff sends the squad back out with a play that has a good chance of success.

Hits & Misses...Last Year's List
A few of last summer's "Nine to Watch" seniors had very good years. Andy Rautins and Orinze Onuaku (& Wes Johnson, &...everyone involved, everyone involved) led the Orange to the top of the conference as the entire team had a breakout season. An untimely injury to Onuaku, their anchor in the low post, derailed what might have been a deep NCCAA Tournament run. Pittsburgh's Jermaine Dixon increased his possession and shot rates dramatically, but his efficiency crashed, and his minutes declined through the season. Villanova's Reggie Redding returned from his fall suspension, and assumed much the same role his senior season as he did his junior season. He finished with about the same percentage of possessions, shots (role player status) and offensive rating (104). The Wildcats were good, but did not appear to get better as they moved through the season. Reggie is playing in Cyprus. Stanley Robinson's role in Connecticut's offense did grow significantly, as the senior took more possessions and shots in the Husky offense. He improved his offensive rating in the process, but as a whole the team stepped back to an 18-16 record and, for the second time in five seasons, NIT status. Robinson was taken by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the NBA draft. Stix Mitchell watched his role with the Pirates disappear when Jeff Robinson became eligible and took an increasingly large role in the Hall's offense and defense. By the end of the season Robinson (and freshman Ferrakon Hall) took most of the available minutes at the #3. Seton Hall's record improved and they received an NIT bid after losing in the quarter-final round of the Big East Tournament. After a Big East Tournament post game outburst however, Mitchell was dismissed from the team, and did not play in the NIT.

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