Monday, November 8, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Villanova Wildcats

Too Busy for the Details?
The 2010 season started off with a bang. Taking the Puerto Rico Tip-Off even after abruptly sending freshman Mouphtaou Yarou home for an eight week treatment, losing a single out of conference game to eventual A-10 champion (and Big 5 rival) Temple suggested great things were in store when the conference schedule was underway. The 'Cats ran out to a 20-1 (9-0 conference) record and a #2 ranking in the polls before the wheels fell off the wagon. A 4-6 finish and second round exit has not dampened the Nova Nation's enthusiasm for 2011. Will 2011 be the bounce back season, or another not-quite-there effort? The squad seems to be on the same page, and ready to prove 2010 was a fluke and not a trend.  Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

Though not quite the rebuilding job Coach Wright faced last fall, when the Coach had to replace all but one member of the front court rotation, the Wildcats will have to replace quite a few points (note the 14% difference between returning minutes and returning points). Don't let the (relatively) high rebounding percentages fool you, this season's squad will have to better last season's squad to control the boards as the class of 2009 had.

According to Pomeroy...
BE Off Eff112.33110.03100.312
BE Def Eff103.98101.04100.25
BE Off eFG%53.5351.9646.713
BE OReb%37.0T535.4734.65
BE Off FTRate34.5244.9137.48
BE Def eFG%47.7349.51049.99
BE Def TOv%20.3421.8222.82
BE DReb%33.5632.8732.88
BE Def FTRate53.01639.71351.416

The defensive numbers are more interesting going into this season because despite mediocre shot defense (see BE Def Eff and BE Def eFG% above, focus on conference rankings for a moment) the Wildcats nevertheless were a "first quartile" (or near first quartile) defensive unit. Until 2010. The strong improvement in shot defense was overlooked as Villanova's defensive efficiency dropped down to "mid conference" level. Strange right? The theories abounded in the 2011 previews. John Gasaway decried (follow on to his blog post during last season) the high foul rate, a subject he returned to in his preview in the 2011 College Basketball Prospectus (available now -- click on the link -- and a very good read), while Dan Hanner looks to defensive rebounding (in his conference preview) to explain the decline. Dan and the Wonk are certainly have good points to make, but defensive rebounding (by rank) actually improved last season and fouling on the defensive side of the ball has been a marker for Villanova defense (as many Rivals board posters have noted) for a number of years now. Compare the foul rate from 2008 to that of 2010...about the same. The Wildcats have to cut down on the fouling, but if we consider the foul rate difference (Off FTRate - Def FTRate), the fouling problem of 2010 becomes a bit clearer...

Off FTRate34.544.937.4
Def FTRate53.039.751.4
FTRate Diff-18.85.2-14.0

The FTRate difference was (only?) slightly worse than that of 2008, but the 2008 squad, even with poorer shot defense and defensive rebounding, had a (slightly) stronger defensive ranking than the 2010 squad. The difference? Turnover rates and that difference (an admittedly hastily assembled metric that only crudely measures the advantage given opponents). Turnover rates have declined across D1 last season, even as shot defense improved.

One of the less explored topics in the Big East is the increase in offensive rebounding. Not only does it offset bad shooting (compare Villanova's offensive offensive efficiency, eFG% and OReb% for 2008 above), but it can provide a bump for offensive efficiency because it "prolongs" the team's possession. Georgetown lived on good shooting but great offensive rebounding during Roy Hibbert's playing days.

The bounce-back pattern noted from 2008 to 2009 is promising as it could occur again in 2011.

For the Record...
Big East1350.7221350.722990.500
Post Season?NCAA Rnd #2NCAA Rnd #5NCAA Rnd #3

The Wildcats' Nucleus
Coach Jay Wright will have a squad balanced in experience between his front court and back court, as the first fall practices give way to the regular season. There are a lot of points to replace, but at least three of the returning players, Cheek, Pena and Yarou are poised to "grow" into a "Significant Contributor" role with the squad. Wayns and Fisher are poised to grow into "Go-to Guy" (dominant) roles on offense. Providing the staff with many possibilities for where those points (and more) will come from. If the 2010 squad did not deliver rebounding in quite the volume as 2009, at least there are more returning players who should be better with experience.

On Offense
Corey Fisher67.1116.224.222.851.03.11.1558.0
Corey Stokes62.5117.715.819.454.05.51.1523.1
Antonio Pena61.9112.320.318.157.710.41.2261.4
Maalik Wayns37.2102.823.324.
Dominic Cheek33.5109.918.219.550.410.01.0740.6
Isaiah Armwood24.1102.611.811.
Mouphtaou Yarou23.7109.316.312.958.312.71.2356.7
Maurice Sutton20.183.113.910.441.512.00.8953.7

Reviewing the numbers for Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena, it appears that Fisher may have little room for (usage) "growth" without a serious decline in his efficiency (ORtg). The Poss% ceiling for Pena may be somewhere around 25% (think a Cunningham-like role in the offense), while Stokes could grow into a consistent third option (Poss% around 20%) is possible, but little beyond that level. . The Basketball Prospectus acknowledged when assessing returning squad members, it undervalued those players who contributed were only modest minutes (Min% < 40%) to the game. Of the sophomore class, no question that Maalik Wayns, tabbed by Luke Winn as break out candidate, will definitely "grow" in the offense. Others have identified Dom Cheek as another breakout, but considering a 95% confidence interval, will probably grow to a "Major Contributor"-level role. He could be a strong second option on offense, especially if, when combined with Stokes, he hits from the outside. As an inside threat, projecting Mouphtaou Yarou as a budding star is probably a year off. The key for Mouph will be how much growth the fans see this season. If Mouph can get his Poss% rate up to about 20%+, he will be in good shape for 2012. Right now his upside is rebounding and shot blocking. Inside scoring will come Pena and guard penetration. A best scenario for Isaiah Armwood and Maurice Sutton would be usage growth to about 16-18% this season, which would position them nicely for another jump in 2012. If the 'Cats are going to gain dominance on the boards again this season, Armwood and Sutton (and Yarou and Pena) will have to step up.

On Defense
Corey Fisher67.18.727.517.30.82.6
Corey Stokes62.511.
Antonio Pena61.921.07.520.42.32.2
Maalik Wayns37.28.716.
Dominic Cheek33.510.95.814.92.11.6
Isaiah Armwood24.
Mouphtaou Yarou23.714.76.725.67.80.9
Maurice Sutton20.112.81.831.010.90.8

Significant Additions
The significance of the newcomers may be understood in time, but neither James Bell, a 6-5, 225 pound guard/forward born in Plainfield, NJ and raised in Orlando, Florida, and 6-7, 235 pound 'tweener Jayvaughn Pinkston, an alum of Curtis Sumpter's high school, Bishop Laughlin, in New York City, is considered a Top 10 recruit. Bell verballed in the summer of 2008, before he hit the recruiting radar. Fast and athletic, especially dangerous in transition, Bell is projected as a #3. A series of stress fractures in both legs have sidelined the freshman. Medical red shirt this season is a distinct possibility. Pinkston, New York State's McDonald's All-American used his strength to dominate in the low post for Bishop Loughlin. Pinkston should be able to contribute with rebounding and defensive duties early, but will most likely need to develop consistency in his shooting range, to contribute carve a playing role larger than spot minutes.

Explode If...
1. Fisher can dominate and be efficient. But Corey alone cannot push the 'Cats to the highest spot in the conference. Pena and Stokes will have to become even more efficient (and assertive in the offense). But one of the sophomores will have to have a breakout as well.
2. Get the defensive fouls under control. Gasaway's analysis has value. If his assertion that fouls cost the Wildcats points and ultimately games is a bit obvious, the underlying notion, that (late game possession fouls aside) excessive fouling benched needed players and allowed teams that should have had difficulty staying with the 'Cats to stick around.
3. Reestablish defensive dominance. Maintain shot defense while forcing turnovers (and getting rebounding under control). Had Villanova had the 2009 defense with the 2010 offense, they would have logged their second Final Four last April.

Implode If...
1. Team chemistry gets out of hand. There has been a good deal of speculation about how well last season's squad got along. The common wisdom suggests that everyone does not have to be bffs, but the key to great teams is that the players enjoy their time together and care about each other. Locker room drama is a rankings killer.
2. Improvement requires concentration and focus. Off court distractions are a momentum killer. The latest incident will not sabotage the season, but when considered as the latest in a string of embarrassing moments over the past two-plus seassons, a pattern of distracting incidents that can wear out a squad.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The out of conference (OOC) schedule features (guaranteed) tilts with Top 25 (and Big 5 rival) Temple and Maryland, projected to finish in the middle of the ACC. The Big 5 series produces at least one scare per season for the Wildcats as a reminder that the national ratings can matter little in a local rivalry. The NIT Tip-Off (should Villanova survive pod play) offers at least one RPI booster in the field (Tennessee, UCLA) that gets to New York City.

The Wildcats drew Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse as mirrors. According to most projections, that means the 'Cats get two First Quartile opponents (and some relief from Rutgers). A 4-2 (or better) from that trio would be encouraging. 3-3 or worse would suggest the 'Cats will struggle this season, and projections from the Basketball Prospectus (12-4 and a fourth place finish) would be more accurate. The 2010 Big East schedule was back-loaded with most of the more challenging opponents lined up for the last three-plus weeks of the season. This season will be similar, as January's most challenging sequence will come near the end of the month with a six game run that starts after the Maryland game (1/15) and sees the Wildcats take three games in a row on the road (Connecticut on 1/17, Syracuse on 1/22 and Providence on 1/26) followed by a three game "Murder's Row" homestand that brings in Georgetown on 1/29, Marquette on 2/2 and West Virginia on 2/5. Villanova should be 4-0 (no worse than 3-1) going into those six games, and should emerge no worse than 9-1/8-2 to have a good chance to finish in the top 2/3 in conference. The last half (minus one) portion of the confernce schedule matches the 'Cats with Pittsburgh (home on 2/12 and on the road 3/5), Seton Hall (road 2/15), Syracuse (home 2/21), St. John's (home 2/26) and Notre Dame (road 2/28). The two game, season-ending road trip (Notre Dame and Pittsburgh) could be especially brutal should the Wildcats be riding a 4-4 record going in. Best case through the last eight games should be a 6-2/7-1 record.

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