Thursday, December 16, 2010

Side by Side -- Pittsburgh versus Villanova (via Tennessee)

Common Opponents to Find Comparison Points
Billed in the pre-season as the "two to beat" for the Big East title, both Villanova and Pittsburgh dropped a game against Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers. The time frame is pretty tight -- about 16 days separated the two games, so the data should be comparable. Controlling for possessions, how did Villanova's and Pittsburgh's offense and defense stack up against Tennessee? And what can that tell us about each team? Looking at the four factors breakdown, the shooting efficiency and point distribution for offense and defense...

Offense Defense

Controlling for...
No team had rotation-altering events -- no suspensions, nor major injuries. While both Tennessee and Villanova have had a some extra-program distractions, both were in the public domain prior to their scheduled game. Note that Tennessee played Villanova at Madison Square Garden while the Vols met the Panthers at the downtown arena in Pittsburgh. Neither Big East team enjoyed a true homecourt advantage, but location was hardly a push, advantage to Pitt.

Offense vs. Offense
If a top 10% offensive rating (adjusted per Ken Pomeroy) is considered elite, then count both Pitt and Villanova among the D1 elites. And that makes the offensive efficiencies posted by each team versus Tennessee all the more remarkable. I have to give Bruce Pearl this, he knows how to prepare his teams. He identified Villanova's heavy reliance on the Fisher/Wayns duo to jump start their offense, and promptly took that away (see the Tennessee-Villanova game flow at bottom). If the Wildcats' 94.6 rating (0.946 points per possession) is brutal, understand Pitt's own egg, 108.5 (or 1.085 ppp), comes from the #2 rated offense (adjusted) in D1, an offense that more typically generates about 122.8 points per 100 possessions. Both offenses were "off" by about 12%-17%. For Villanova, the Vols exposed their (over?) reliance on their back court duo to control the flow of the game and put enough points on the board to loosen up opposing defenses. Villanova's lack of offense was the game-turning element, extremely inefficient shot-to-point efficiency combined with their back court's inability to set the table for the team's other offensive elements. Pittsburgh could have survived an off night for their offense, if their defense had not collapsed.

Defense vs. Defense
Villanova maintained good shot defense versus Tennessee, the Vols were held to a <50 eFG%, as the 'Cats closed down the lane and held the Vols to 40% shooting inside the arc. Villanova allowed to many second chance opportunities and reverted to 2010's foul-prone form, putting the Vols on the line about three times for every four field goal attempts. Pittsburgh simply did not defend the shot well at all. The Vols torched the Panthers with an eFG% so high (63.5%) that it overwhelmed a turnover rate (28%) high enough that on most nights it would have cost the careless team the game. Not so on 12/11. The Vols also did an admirable job on their offensive boards (Villanova was better here than Pittsburgh by a very small margin), winning a game element that both Villanova and Pittsburgh expect to dominate. Pomeroy ranks Villanova's defense higher than Pitt's, #25 vs. #30, but like offense, both are in the upper 10% of D1 ball.

In the Flow...

[note -- Game Flows compliments of]  In both games Tennessee jumped out to the lead about 3:30 to 5:00 into the first half, and their lead out steadily through until half time. While Villanova jumped back into the game with a strong second half run (they found the seams in the Vols' zone?), Pittsburgh seemed a step slower and actually lost ground, allowing the Vols to open a 20 point lead around the mid-point of that half. While the Panthers were able to close that margin to a more respectable -8 at the end, that Tennessee was able to maintain margins of double digits into the very last minute of the game suggests the Panther offense never found a counter to the Volunteer defense.

If the 'Cats and Panthers Played Today
At this point Pomeroy projects two wins for Pitt, a closer game at Villanova, with the return game accruing a larger winning margin to Pitt. A pace calculation based only the possession-rate from their Tennessee games suggests the two will play a very high-tempo game -- something in the range of 80 possessions. That won't happen, but do not minimize the importance of pace with respect to this match-up. Pitt's offense, especially shot conversion efficiency (eFG%) shows some sensitivity to pace. In games with higher than D1 average pace, Pitt's shot conversion efficiency (eFG%) tends to suffer. The Panthers normally convert at about a 53.1% eFG%. In the four games they played at a pace >70, the Panthers averaged an eFG% of 49.1%. Grabbing an early lead allows opponents to push the pace and keep the Panther offense off balance. Villanova struggles when they have to score on half court sets. Stop the guards and the Wildcats have to work to set up their other scorers. The Villanova roster contains a number of offensive options, but the guards have to take time to recognize the most appropriate option given the defense in front of them. Scoring early in the possession assures they will score often, and allow shot taking to follow in the offensive flow of the game.

Other Considerations
1. The two are slated to play a mirror series this season, with the first game coming in early February, to be featured on ESPN's GameDay series. While the game will be played in Villanova's on campus facility (the Pavilion), the all-day presence of television crews and support staff should be a massive distraction for the school of 6,500 undergraduates. Will it distract the host and blunt what should be a huge advantage? The mirror is scheduled, as the regular season closer, for the Peterson Event Center on Pitt's campus.

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