Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- At the Holiday Festival

by Ray Floriani

New York City - The format of the MSG Holiday Festival went through another alteration. Up until a few years ago it was contested just after Christmas. Since then it has been before December 25th and this season was not a true tournament. No semifinal and final doubleheader -- just a twin bill -- this past Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

The Holiday Festival logo

The scores:

Rutgers67 58Stony Brook
St. John's56 50Fordham

Possession and efficiency:

Stony Brook6688

View of MSG

St. John's6883

Notes & Points of Emphasis
1. Rutgers was tested.
The American East representatives, Stony Brook worked hard on the offensive glass showing a 46-32% edge in offensive rebounding percentage. Rutgers coach Mike Rice pointed out , partially in jest, that his Scarlet Knights (6-5) had too much holiday spirit and were willing to give up second chances to the Seawolves. Stony Brook did not have an easy time finishing those opportunities showing only a 13-9 lead in second chance points. Stony Brook (3-6) basically lived on the perimeter and shot better from three (7 of 24 for 29%) than from two (9 of 36 and 25%). Rutgers shot 56% from two en route to a 54% eFG mark. Both teams had identical and sloppy 24% TO rates. Myles Mack of Rutgers led all scorers with 22 points. The freshman guard did not start but proved the old axiom 'it is more important who finishes rather than starts the game'. Mack used 18% of the Scarlet Knight possessions and obviously was very much involved.

Rutgers coach Mike Rice feels his team was in a holiday mode
giving too many offensive rebounding 'gifts'

2. Fordham is improved
They entered MSG at 4-5. Tom Pecora is getting double figure scoring from three players, none are seniors. Junior Chris Gaston leads at 14.6 PPG while the backcourt of sophomore Branden Frazier (10.0) and freshman Devon McMillan (11.6) has been effective.

Against St. John's there were opportunities. Gaston got inside but struggled to finish. He scored 11 points, grabbed 14 rebounds (5 offensive) but was 4 of 16 from the field. Both clubs failed to hit 40% eFG with Fordham at 36% and St. John's not much better with 38%. The young Ram backcourt did a nice job caring for the ball with a 15% TO rate, compared to St. John's' 22%. Red Storm got the big and arguable game decisive advantage on the offensive glass. They showed a 42-24% dominance in offensive rebounding percentage. God's Gift Achiuwa (5) and Moe Harkness (3) accounted for half of the 16 St. John's offensive boards. Harkness, a 6-8 freshman swing man, had a nice 13 point, 16 rebound double-double.

3. St. John's has concerns
The Red Storm is now 5-5. Beyond the .500 won-lost record are other issues. The exit of Nurideen Lindsey further depletes an already thin squad. In the first half against Fordham the starters went the entire way. For the game, four players put in the full forty minutes. The only one who did not was freshman guard Sir Dominic Pointer who put in 36 minutes and spelled by Malik Stith for only 4 minutes. The biggest concerns in this situation are foul trouble -- the Storm do zone frequently to stay out of that situation -- and injuries. They can ill afford an injury to anyone. With Big East play and its physical nature, practices, plus Winter and the illnesses it can bring coming up, St. John's will be embarking on conference play in a very tenuous circumstance.

The Stony Brook band entertained
and enjoyed their MSG appearance

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Analysis of the Maggie Dixon Classic

by Ray Floriani

New York City – The annual Maggie Dixon Classic gave us two interesting games. The 5,486 in attendance saw St. John’s put up a good battle before falling to number one Baylor in a game closer than the score hints. In game two, Tennessee, despite coming in with two losses, proved they can defend and are still an elite program, not to go away any time soon.

At halftime a travel team from Oakland, NJ got to play on the Garden floor.
Yours truly officiated them in a tournament a week earlier.

Baylor73 59St. John's

The possessions and offensive efficiency:

St. John's6394

Of the Four Factors, two key areas saw the Bears excel. FT rate and offensive rebounding percentage. Baylor enjoyed 22-6% advantage in free throw rate (FTM/FGA) by virtue of hitting 14 free throws to St. John’s’ four. Red Storm, though, had only four attempts to Baylor’s 20. In the offensive rebounding department the advantage was a 43-31% difference in Baylor’s favor. Britney Griner, Baylor’s outstanding 6-8 junior center, had a game leading 13 rebounds. Three were offensive as Brooklyn Pope did the most damage for the Bears with five offensive rebounds.

St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico
makes a point

Second game score, possessions and efficiency:

Tennessee84 61De Paul

De Paul8175

Tennessee assistant Holly Warwick and Glory Johnson

Possession total shows us it was a bit of a faster pace. Very glaring number among those Four Factors, DePaul’s 30% turnover rate. Blue Demons had 24 turnovers and the 30% means almost one third of their offense resulted in the TO. Tennessee did have 19 of their own for a high 23% TO rate, a figure they will undoubtedly address in preparation for their next opponent.

A Look at Possessions and Usage
From Golden State of mind site there was a nice piece on advanced statistical breakdowns you can use analyzing the NBA. Actually, the metrics are applicable for the college game as well.

To calculate individual possessions you employ this formula:

Poss = FGA + (FTA * .475) + TO

The NBA free throw multiplier is .44, on the college level the accepted is .475. Once you have possessions of an individual player you divide that figure by team possessions. The final total is multiplied by 100 for the Usage percentage rate.

We will now take a look at the possessions and usage of the leading scorer for each team in the two games.

Player, TeamPossPts.Usage
B. Pope, Baylor191929
E. McPherson, SJU152324
J. Penny, De Paul111614
G. Johnson, Tenn181622

Taking it further let us look at the Baylor distribution. After all, they are the nation’s top ranked team:

B. Pope191929
B. Griner141717
O. Sims14817
K. Hayden111213
J. Madden181122
D. Williams445
M. Robertson000
S. Agbuke121

The usage totals 98% because many of the usage figures contained percentage points, under .5, which I did not round up. St. John’s coach Kim Barnes Arico targeted Griner and point guard Sims for added defensive attention. She knew Pope and Madden would get additional and/or open looks but was willing to take the chance. The usage points out the impact the latter two had on the Baylor attack and outcome.

Griner entered the game with a 21% usage while Sims was right behind at 20%.
The team records:

St. John's5-5
De Paul8-2

Baylor's Britney Griner graciously signs autographs

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- The Jimmy V Classic

by Ray Floriani

New York City – The annual Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden gave us two interesting games. In the opener, Missouri had a little too much of everything in defeating Villanova 81-71.

Pre-game national anthem

The pace and efficiency:


The Four Factors:


Jay Wright makes a point

Villanova coach Jay Wright watched all seven of Missouri’s previous games on tape. What he saw was a well coached, veteran team that defends and simply was a challenging task for his young Wildcats. “We were hoping to grind it out, keep it close near the end and possibly steal one,” Wright said.

Villanova trailed by double digits most of the second half but did close late to get it to a one possession game. Each time Villanova was unable to get any closer. The culprit was turnovers, untimely turnovers.

The Wildcats entered the game with a commendable 19% TO rate. Missouri, which exerts pressure in a half court setting forced Villanova into a 22% rate. That proved significant as Villanova shot well, got to the line and hit the boards hard. Transition points were crucial also as the Big Twelve representatives owned a 24-8 edge in fast break points.

Wildcats placed five players in double figures. Their points and Manley totals are as follows:

Maalik Wayns1413
Darrun Hilliard138
Dom Cheek1214
Mouphtaou Yarou1114
JayVaughn Pinkston1012

Maalik Wayns canned three treys in the stretch. He added 9 assists but did commit five turnovers. Yarou is a nice player inside but needs help. Pinkston did some fine work in the lane. He is still coming around as Wright noted “he (Pinkston) is rusty.” The Villanova mentor noted Pinkston not only sat out suspended last year but worked nine hours a day and was able to get little gym time for himself. Hilliard is a freshman with a nice shooting stroke. Cheek does a good job in the open floor.

Marcus Denmon led all scorers with 28 points. The Missouri guard was 6 of 10 from the floor. Kim English added 15 while Ricardo Ratliffe scored 17 points while grabbing 11 boards. Ratliffe proved it’s quality not quantity. He is Missouri’s only legitimate big man but the 6-8 senior forward is very effective.

Learning experience. Wright and several of his Villanova players echoed that sentiment following the game. “we’ll learn from this,” Cheek said. “We’ll watch the tape, get back to practice and just get better.”

View of court from
upper press box

• Spent the first half recording possessions longhand. Came up with 34 per team, the same as the formula yielded off the box score. Missouri led 42-29 at the break with a noticeable 125-85 advantage in offensive efficiency.

• Missouri is 8-0. Villanova is now 5-3 with a Saturday game at Temple next on tap.

Marquette vs. Washington
The night cap of the V saw Marquette edge Washington 79-77 in a game settled on the last possession. The pace and efficiency:


One of those rare occurrences, Washington won the efficiency battle but not the won-lost ‘war’. Huskies had a 46-28% lead in offensive rebounding percentage. Interestingly, Marquette had the edge 31-7% in free throw rate. Usually teams ‘owning’ the glass get to the line more.

A reason Marquette visited the line (27 to 10 in free throw attempts) more was their ability to attack the basket. They led 10-0 in fast break points and penetrated well.

The scoreboard tells the story of game two

Marquette coach Buzz Williams is a tempo free advocate who discussed Washington’s efficiency in the post game press conference. Williams is a stickler in preaching the value and numerical meaning of a possession to his players. Little surprise that Marquette had an outstanding 14% TO rate, as opposed to the 23% of the Huskies.

Jae Crowder (18 points) hit one three all night. It was the deciding basket for Marquette as a Washington attempt pon the next possession missed at the buzzer.

The leading scorers and Manley numbers:

Darius Johnson-Odom (MU)2317
Terrence Ross (WU)1924

• Marquette’s Jae Crowder had a Manley Efficiency of 17 along with his 18 points.

Chris Otule of Marqueete went out with a knee injury after the first two minutes. The 6-11 junior averages just over 5 p[oints per game but Williams felt his loss was significant in Marquette’s defending Washington’s ball screens.

• Marquette is 8-0, Washington is now 4-3.

• Huskies are spending a few more days in New York. They will take in a movie, two plays then on Saturday face Duke back at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova was the only schol to bring cheerleaders.
Here Ray is enjoying the company

Monday, December 5, 2011

Penn Post Game -- Closing Out

They Were on Fire, and Then...
There were times in the first half when it appeared, Big 5 game/rivalry or not, Villanova was going to sweep Penn right out of the Pavilion. The 'Cats opened with a 12-4 run in the game's first five minutes on their way to a 73-65 win over their Big 5 rival. The score understated the Wildcats' domination...


The teams were on track for a 32 possession half and a 64 possession game...with a score of 96-32 Villanova. Numbers too good to be sustained...and the skeptics were not disappointed. Not before Villanova doubled the score on Penn, 32-16 near the 3:00 mark of the first half. The Wildcats took a solid 18 point lead, 38-20, into the intermission.

"I thought it was important (with Maalik Wayns out with two first half fouls) that we did not let him (Penn point guard Zack Rosen) get started..." Coach Wright asserted in the post game press conference, "...because once he gets going, it's really tough to stop him..." This served as the explanation for Penn's point guard Zack Rosen's second half explosion. Going into the half with six points on 2-4 (0-1, 2-3) from the floor and 2-2 from the line, Penn's preseason favorite to take Player of the Year honors in the Big 5 used the time to gather himself, and returned to the floor to record 17 more points as he engineered the Quakers' second half rush to close the gap. Though they fell short, Penn whittled a deficit that bulged to 18 early in the half down to four with 0:15 left to play. Rosen's three pointer (one of seven they managed to convert after shooting 0-7 in the first half) brought the Quakers to 65-69, but they could get no closer as the young Wildcats hit their free throws to push the margin back out to eight.

With Maalik Wayns on the bench
Zack Rosen schools Achraf Yacoubou (24) in first half action

The bloggers over at focus on Villanova's nine game winning streak over Penn and how the squad converted at the line to bring home the win in their piece, "9 Straight for Cats Over Quakers". The Nova Blog noted Penn's second half rally in "Villanova Holds Off Penn's..." and how the Wildcats preserved the win. The University site posted the AP wire story and the official boxscore. The breakdown by halves

 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
The pace was dictated by Villanova and remained consistent through both halves. Penn's marked, half-over-half improvement on offense (or Villanova's defensive lapse if you wish) was graphic and led by the turnaround on their outside shooting. The Wildcats kept their points per possession rate north of one (1.048 PPP) on the strength of their offensive rebounding, dramatic drop in turnovers and the large number of times they got to the line. From Zack Rosen's post game comments, "...I don't know where our confidence was...we want to go out and play with anybody, no matter who it is...and do what we do. I think in the second half we did what we did..." Indeed, the Quakers hit 7-13 from beyond the arc, One of the minor surprises is how Penn, which racked up a staggering 27 personal fouls managed to keep their entire rotation eligible for play. Three Quakers, Rosen, forward Henry Brooks and forward/center Cameron Gunter picked up four fouls apiece while four others had three fouls apiece. Five of Penn's 18 rostered players are 6-8 and taller. They struggled to block out Mouphtao Yarou, sending the junior forward to the line for 12 free throw attempts.

Notes & Observations
1. About Villanova's defense -- "We gotta learn we have to play 40's hard (to maintain defensive intensity), but good teams do that...when you're young...when you get a lead...the place you rest is on defense. When you're a veteran...and you're going to rest, you do it on offense" -- Coach Jay Wright

2. Maalik Wayns picked up his second foul with nine minutes left in the first half and sat for the balance of the period. He took no shots in the first half, dished two dimes, racked up a steal and committed two turnovers before retiring to the bench. Urged at the half to shoot more, the junior's line at the finish was 11 points on 2-4 (1-2 from beyond the arc, 1-2 inside) shooting from the field and 6-6 at the line.

Maalik Wayns' three pointer in the second half
helped staunch a Quaker comeback

3. With Wayns on the bench and Rosen on the loose, the staff with limited options turned to freshmen Ty Johnson and Achraf Yacoubou to pick up Wayns' minutes and they did not disappoint. Johnson logged 15 minutes as he manned the point, recording six points while providing three assists to two turnovers. The freshman grabbed a rebound and was credited with a steal. Yacoubou was a bit less productive offensively, but he did dish two dimes while committing one turnover in an 18 minute stint.

4. Yarou racked up a double-double, 21 points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes of action. The Quakers did not have a player, or combination of players who could contain Yarou.

Ty Johnson directs the Wildcats late in the first half

5. With the win, the latest in a streak of nine (as reported by, Villanova now holds a 39-14 edge over Penn in their Big 5 series. This is the least competitive of the head-to-head series within the Big 5.

Penn's Coach Jerome Allen directs the Quakers
from the sidelines

Roster Moves
The staff used an eight man rotation against Penn, the shallowest this season, as junior forward/center Maurice Sutton dislocated his right thumb in practice this week. He is expected to miss between two and three weeks. Do not look for him before the Big East season. Freshman forward Markus Kennedy collided with JayVaughn Pinkston in practice and sustained a shoulder injury. Coach Wright hopes he will be ready Tuesday for the Missouri game in Madison Square Garden.

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- Siena at St. Peter's

by Ray Floriani

Jersey City, NJ- The MAAC opener for both Siena and St. Peter's was played Thursday night at St. Peter's in Jersey City. While it is still early, the conference teams play two games prior to the new year. Getting off to a good start in league play is vital.

St. Peter's took advantage of home court and some outstanding defense posting a 51-44 victory. The pace and efficiency:

St. Peter's5494

Basic grind it out style of play as noted by the extremely low count of 54 turnovers. The key for St. Peter's in this one…

To little surprise St. Peter's limited Siena to an 82 offensive efficiency, the Peacocks forced a 26% turnover rate and limited the visitors to a 38% eFG mark. Siena shot 3 of 18 (16.7%) from three point range.

Siena trailed by 16 early in the second half but was able to tie it in the stretch. They never were able to get a lead which was significant from a momentum standpoint.

The Saints excelled at…offensive rebounding. They enjoyed a 39-25% edge in that area.

Chris Prescott of St. Peter's paced the scorers with 16 points. OD Anosike led Siena with a strong 12 point 10 rebound effort.

Manley efficiency leader.
Yvon Raymond of St. Peter's. Raymond put up a 'Manley' number of 18. He scored 15 points, pulled down 9 rebounds, had 2 assists, one block and only one turnover.

St. Peter's improved to 2-4 while Siena fell to the same won-lost record.

The coveted MAAC Championship Banner
Hangs in the Yanitelli Center in Jersey City

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Leaving for Villanova Shortly...

Villanova versus Penn Tonight at 7pm
Media credentials in hand (or at the Pavilion), I am heading down for the game tonight. Hope to see some Nova Nation fans at the Pavilion as the Wildcats play the Quakers. I should be courtside somewhere (usually near the basket opposite the Villanova bench). Come up and say hi if you have time.

Game Time Note -- Maurice Sutton is out with a dislocated thumb. Expect 2-3 week of downtime, the beginning of the Big East season?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- St. Peter's at FDU

by Ray Floriani

Teaneck, NJ - In women's basketball, FDU defeated St. Peter's 55-46 on Tuesday at Stratis Arena. The efficiency and pace (kind of tells it all):
St. Peter's7561

Visiting St.Peter's of the MAAC pushed the pace on both ends as the mid-seventies possession count shows. FDU, with point guard Amanda Andrades out with an ankle injury, struggled at the lead guard spot. FDU was guilty of 24 turnovers. Coach Peter Cinella credited St. Peter's defense but did admit his club needs work on cutting down on turnovers. Part of the problem was FDU accelerating when there was need to sporting a double digit lead and just under ten minutes to go. The TO rates are as follows:

St. Peter's21%

Not an artistic gem of a game on either end. FDU entered the game with a 31% TO rate, so there is work to be done.

Mariyah Laury of FDU (3-5) led all scorers with 14 points. Laury did have 4 assists, but 8 turnovers as she was making the transition from two guard to the lead. Laury came through in the clutch, scoring two crucial baskets as St. Peter's rallied to get it to a one possession game in the stretch with two minutes to play. Jesika Holmes led St. Peter's (0-4) with 13 points.

Shooting, was a sore spot for St.Peter's. They shot 26% for the game including 9.5% (2 of 21) from three. The foul line wasn't much better as St. Peter's was only 44%. It was that kind of night for the Peahens.

Stat Stuffer: FDU forward Desiree Crawford with a Manley efficiency of 17. Crawford scored 7 points (3 of 8 shooting) but offset the under 50% shooting with 11 rebounds, 'only' two turnovers (not bad considering FDU's TO woes) and 7 blocks.

Stratis Arena interior during the game

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Santa Clara Post Game: The Learning Curve

What the Zebras Give, They Take Away
The first half ended with Villanova going to the line for three of their last five possessions. Down 28-32 when Jordan Akwenuke fouled Mouphtaou Yarou on yet another low post entry pass to send Yarou to the line. Villanova's center converted 2-2, as did Dominic Cheek on the Wildcats' next possession. The score tied at 32, the teams exchanged two empty trips apiece as the clock slipped below 0:30 Bronco guard Brandon Clark fouled Cheek on a three point attempt. The junior wing stepped to the line and sank all three attempts. Back the other way with three ticks left freshman Darrun Hilliard fouled Santa Clara point guard Evan Roquemore in the midst of a desparation three. To the line with 0:0.2 on the clock, Roquemore managed to get the Broncos two more points before the half, and Villanova retired to the locker room with a one point, 35-34 lead.

Not able to pull away in the second half, the Wildcats nevertheless had the ball and a five point lead, 64-59, with 0:57 left. Villanova was not only unable to convert their next two possessions, but they compounded the problem by putting Roquemore on the line for Santa Clara's corresponding two possessions. The second trip to the foul line was especially frustrating because Villanova's defense had denied the Broncos a clean look for a tieing three point attempt. With 10 seconds left on the clock Santa Clara Coach Kerry Keating had called time when the Bronco's first three point play had broken down. Thinking they had a foul to give, the Villanova staff instructed Hilliard to foul with seven ticks left. The scoreboard may have said five fouls (even the refereeing crew told the Villanova bench the wrong foul count), but the scorer's book said six, and Hilliard's foul-to-give put Roquemore back on the line where he dropped both and cut the lead to one, 65-64. Hilliard could not find an open player at mid-court, and forgetting he could run the baseline, dumped the inbound to JayVaughn Pinkston who was the outlet. The forward gathered the ball, but was fouled instantly by guard Raymond Cowells, thus putting the freshman, who had converted three of four free throw attempts to that point, on the line with the game hanging. Pinkston missed the front end, and stepped between Yannik Atanga and Roquemore to intercept the pass. He made contact with Roquemore with 0:04 on the clock and put Roquemore back on the line shooting one-and-one. Roquemore converted twice to claim the win for Santa Clara.

The Villanova blogosphere and messageboards have dissolved into a tasty ragou of factions and differing opinions. The bloggers over at offered a critical recap that provided readers with an opportunity to comment. Those readers generated 206 comments, which spanned the spectrum from absolute disgust to wait and see. The blogger wisely abstained from grading the performances, though the title, "Sloppy Cats Bucked by Broncos" implies an opinion of sorts. The Nova Blog chose to accentuate the positive in their recap, "Things Aren't As Bad...". The University site posted the AP wire story and the official boxscore. The breakdown by halves

OpponentSanta Clara 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
The pace was slow for Villanova, but consistent with Santa Clara's offensive style of play. The Broncos are a perimeter oriented team (POT), that uses motion to find open three point scoring opportunities, which may take time to develop. Stymied by the Bronco's zone defense early in the first half, Villanova found the adjustment after 5-7 minutes, and looked for Yarou to flash to the key for a pass. When he caught it, the center could then reverse the ball or turn and shoot. Shooting was extremely effective as Yarou converted 4-7, most from that spot, and went to the free throw line several times as well. Santa Clara bigs collected seven personals in the first half. Though that play was available in the second half, Yarou's hit only 3-6, with Markus Kennedy only able to convert 1-6 in a similar situation.

Notes & Observations
1. A 28.6% conversion rate for three point attempts in the first half, and a 38.9% two point conversion rate in the second half worked to keep Villanova's eFG% below 50% for both halves. Recognizing what the defense will give earlier might have made a difference going into the half-time. Taking advantage of a loose zone early in the second half helped to build a modest lead through the first few minutes. Santa Clara recognized Wayns' tendency to drive the lane with late game possessions and defensed the play well, despite Villanova setting the second screen. Who was available to take a pass at that point?

2. Maalik Wayns took over 30% of the possessions and 24% of the available shots when he was on the floor. Those numbers allow the other members on the floor a larger role than setting screens and grabbing rebounds, but dishing only three dimes to four turnovers continues to eat into his efficiency. Wayns' eFG% was a modest 50%, accounting for a 10 point contribution to the offense.

3. Yarou emerged as a legitimate primary scoring option in this game. The Santa Clara front court contingent was outclassed when matched with Yarou. The junior went 7-13 from the field and 5-7 from the line to post an eFG% of 53.8% with a 1.16 PPWS, the best on the team among those who logged 50% or more playing time and 20% or more Shot%. Yarou also corralled 10.7% of the available offensive rebounds, a strong number for low post players.

4. A possible hint of minute distribution and player rotation to come, the staff used 10 players again, but only seven saw more than 10 minutes of PT. Bell and Yarou drew >30 minutes, while Wayns, limited by foul trouble in the first half, drew 29.

5. The turnover rate among the freshmen (and Wayns...) was high, with Ty Johnson losing 49% of his possessions, followed by Pinkston (37%), (Wayns...29%) and Hilliard (26%). Kennedy lost only 13% of his possessions, a strong number considering he plays in the low post. Given the inbounds play that put Pinkston on the line with 6 seconds to go, the staff intends to use the freshmen extensively (do they have a choice?) and in critical, end game situations.

Perimeter Oriented Teams...
Santa Clara offers a typical profile for a team that looks to generate it's offense from the outside in. The Broncos show some obvious clues by their point distribution (50.8% from three point conversions), but the more subtle clues are present even if they did not convert as efficiently as they did. Note the offensive rebounding rate (10.7%) and free throw rate (FTA/FGA -- free throws to field goal attemtps -- 22.0%), both of which hint strongly that the Broncos avoid contact while scoring their points. The pace, possessions per game, also hint at a POT, the Broncos rely on a variety of screens and ball reversals to set up their scorers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- Preseason NIT Finals

by Ray Floriani

NEW YORK CITY -- The shot chart the last eight minutes of the game showed Syracuse with nine field goals, Kris Joseph hitting five of them. The senior forward was instrumental in the Syracuse's 69-63 victory over Stanford in the Pre-Season NIT championship at Madison Square Garden.

The court at Madison Square Garden

The scores:

Consolation Game...
Virginia Tech59 57Oklahoma State

Championship Game...
Syracuse69 63Stanford

The possessions and efficiency:


Beside Joseph, the victory was predicated on good old full court pressure defense. The Cardinal had an eight point lead with under seven minutes to go and appeared to be in control. Syracuse then went into the press that forced turnovers, created quick scores and accelerated the pace. As Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim pointed out, Stanford was doing a great job controlling the clock with possessions in the 30-35 second range. Down eight that late , it would have been very difficult to come back if the possessions continued at that pace.

Joseph had a game high 18 points, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. Those five field goals in the latter eight minutes came from varying areas. There was a three pointer, two mid range jumpers and two closely defended penetrations in the paint.

MVP Kris Joseph of Syracuse

Syracuse did have an eFg percentage of 51%. Regardless, Boeheim feels his offense or improvement of it, is priority one. The Orange were guilty of 21 turnovers, an extremely high 29% TO rate. The Cardinal struggled even greater in that area with 24 turnovers and an astounding 35% TO mark.

Johnny Dawkins' Pac 12 representatives did pound the boards with a 50% offensive rebounding percentage. Syracuse was close behind with 47% led by Fab Melo with 5 offensive boards, and the versatile Joseph adding four.

Syracuse -- specifically Jim Boeheim -- fans

Stanford's Josh Owens a 14 points per game scorer, struggled with a 4 point (2 of 7 shooting) performance in 31 minutes.

A satisfying tournament for Syracuse. Not only due to taking home the championship but facing two good teams, Virginia Tech in the semis and Stanford in the final. In the latter contest, how Syracuse pulled it out was very gratifying. Now, it's back to the offensive 'drawing board'.

Coaches Johnny Dawkins and Jim Boeheim post game

The consolation gave us a hard fought one possession contest.

The pace and efficiency:

Oklahoma State56102
Virginia Tech6197

Two major keys here. Travis Ford's teams like to get out and push the pace. Virginia Tech favors a half court environment and Seth Greenberg's group dictated tempo. Oklahoma State entered the game averaging 72 possessions and were held to 16 less than their norm. On the afternoon, Oklahoma state was limited to two fast break points.

Other big factor was the offensive glass. Virginia Tech started slow looking at an 8-0 deficit after the first four minutes. The Hokies continued to work inside and gradually wore down the Cowboys. Virginia Tech had a 48-37% advantage in offensive rebounding percentage. Dorian Finney-Smith, a 6-8 forward, did appreciable damage for tech with 8 offensive rebounds.

Tech, interestingly, only shot 35% eFG percentage. Given their rebounding edge and a tidy 18% TO rate, it's not a huge surprise they were able to pull this contest out and exit MSG with that well earned split.

The Honors (with their final game Manley efficiency):

MOPKris Joseph, Syracuse22
All Tournament Team:Dion Waiters, Syracuse10
C. J. Fair, Syracuse12
Aaron Bright, Stanford13
Erick Green, Virginia Tech11

Markel Brown of Oklahoma State was not selected to the All-Tournament team but did lead the consolation game scorers with 19 points. His Manley efficiency checked in at an impressive 23 (largely due to the sophomore guard's 10 rebounds).

'Stat Stuffer' Melo
Fab Melo, Syracuse's sophomore center drew praise for his play in the final. The seven-footer played 32 minutes and scored 6 points (3 of 6 shooting) with 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals. His final Manley efficiency, a very commendable 16. Second on the Orange in the championship game.

Street view from the pressroom,
New York on Black Friday

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The 2011 Legends Classic -- 4 Takaways

After I Got a Few Hours' Sleep Between Monday and Wednesday...
After blogging the Legends Classic Saturday and Monday night, I drove home to write the recap for RTC, sleep for an hour or two before embarking on a 24 hour juggling marathon of personal, professional and avocational responsibilities. Having an hour to actually sit and think...would probably put me to sleep. So before I think too long...

1. Entertaining & Exciting != High Quality & Excellent -- The fans who came out (mostly attached to the schools, which is a shame, these were very entertaining games) were treated to a four game set that included an overtime period between Oregon State and Texas Saturday, necessitated by an Oregon State make on the next-to-last possession of regulation (O State had not held the lead for more than one possession for the previous 32 mintues). Jared Cunningham sank two free throws to force the overtime period. Two other games featured the possible win or tie by the team holding the ball at the end of regulation. Nerve wracking for the winners and very exciting for those who came out to watch. The fourth game, by the way, was decided by seven points (three possessions), saw five lead changes and a tie in the last six minutes of play...hardly a snooze. So why does exciting not always equal excellent? The four games averaged 42.5 fouls (that is 21 fouls per team) and 35.8 turnovers (or nearly 18 per team per game). Each game seemed to have several stretches where both teams turned the ball over on successive possessions, leading to several sequences where the ball would change hands four-to-six times with teams exchanging "one-and-done" possessions, or possibly not taking a shot at all. Television timeouts, which seemed to stretch innocuous fouls into 2-3 minute huddle sessions, brought several promising runs to a screeching halt which fatally disrupted any attempts at a game flow. But the runs, taken by all four teams at various times, coupled with some impressive individual performances and wild end-of-regulation play sequences were strong redeeming qualities. Yes I'd do this again. In a heartbeat.

NC State's Richard Howell dunks
at the end of a run out
in State's loss to Vanderbilt

2. Vanderbilt Can Win Without Festus Ezeli (or Even Johnny Jenkins?!). Oregon State Cannot Without Jared Cunningham -- Coach Kevin Stallings put speculation about the impact of no Ezeli to bed quickly, and the subject of the post game interviews refocused on how Vanderbilt played rather than how they would have played. The Commodores downed two good -- not great -- teams from power conferences. Teams expected to finish in the upper division of their respective conferences, though not to seriously challenge for the top spots in their respective conferences. Given the competition, that Vanderbilt won both games speaks well for the Commodores' depth and poise. They bested middling teams from other power conferences without their starting center who was the team's #3 scorer and #2 rebounder (#1 offensive rebounder) speaks to the talent level that is now available. That is the basic talent level that will sustain them through SEC play. Ezeli, when he rehabilitates and rejoins the squad, will most likely make a difference as to whether the 'Dores finish #5 or #3 (or higher...) this season. His absence will not determine whether the squad has a winning or losing season. Opposing coaches spoke of Vanderbilt's experience in post game pressers, but invariably they mentioned senior wing Jeffrey Taylor, before junior guard John Jenkins, the leading SEC scorer last season.

Can the same be said for Oregon State? Coach Craig Robinson asserted to the assembled press that his team "...have quite a bit of character...", and "...[Jared Cunningham]'s a marked man now. We expect Jared to understand that help [his teammates] get involved...he affects the game even when he is not scoring 35 points a game...". While forward Devon Collier and pg Ahme Starks led the scoring against Vanderbilt, the Beavers' scoring is largely in those three teammates' hands. Though he had seven steals, the Beavers needed more than nine points from the junior off guard against Vanderbilt. Cunningham will need to post more than nine points per game to boost the Beaver's chances in Pac-12 play.

Starks (#3) & Collier (#44) are not enough
if the Beavers are to finish
in the Pac-12's top 3

3. Should Coach Barnes Test His Team for ADHD? -- Counting the two halves of each game separately, Texas "lost" the last four minutes three out of four times (four out of five if you count the Oregon State overtime Saturday). What happened? In the first half of their semi-final versus Oregon State, the Long Horns had just outscored the Beavers 14-7 from the 7:59 mark to the 4:00 mark. From there to the end of the half however the Horns managed eight points on eight possessions, for a 1.00 points per possession rate. The Beavers scored 10 point in eight possessions, good for a 1.25 ppp. Though the Horns retained a five point edge going into the intermission, they had Beavers on the ropes at the 4:00 minute mark, and let them go. The second half of Saturday's game followed a pattern similar to the first half, the Horns again established an edge going into the last four minutes (complements of a 13-6 scoring edge from the 11:50-4:00 mark), but lost focus again, scoring six points in their last eight possessions (0.75 ppp) to Oregon State's 12 points over eight possessions (1.50 ppp). The Horns shot 3-9 from the floor and 9-12 from the line in those two four minute slices, with no assists. Coach Robinson's squad shot 6-14 (with six assists) and 7-8 from the line.

Monday night's Consolation Game with North Carolina State had a similar pattern emerge with respect to "the last four", at least in the first half. Up by 13 at the 4:00 minute mark, the Horns scored their last five points in the half using six possessions (0.83 ppp), shooting 1-6 from the field with a single assist and 2-4 from the line.

NC State Coach Mark Gottfried can only watch
as Texas center Alexis Wangmene stuffs a putback
in first half of the Consolation Game

The Wolfpack scored eight points on seven possessions (1.14 ppp) on 1-2 shooting from the field (on an assist) and 5-6 from the line. Coach Barnes identified fouling as one of the areas the staff had to continue to address with the young team. J'Covan Brown's technical (and fifth foul) as a reaction to his fourth foul became a central theme in the post game presser. Coach Rick Barnes, reflecting on Brown offered "...That's where he gotta grow up. He's been in the program for three years and he's at different role now where these guys are looking for a lot from him...and he just can't do that. This has happened too much and sooner or later he's going to have to figure out that's what's going to keep him from where he wants to be and more importantly, it's a team game, and...he's got to realize it is not about him, there's more to it than scoring points...there's a lot that goes into being a part of a basketball team" Speaking with that gentle Southeastern drawl that tends to soothe the untrained Yankee ear, the coach continued "...he's come a long way...but he's, he ought to have it figured out by now...". In response to a later question about the impact of the technical on the team, Barnes responded "...I'm concerned for J'Covan. We're going to be fine. We've got enough guys who will work...the concerning part is for him. He's a junior, he's been here long enough and he ought to know...but for the team, if he doesn't do what he needs to do we'll move without him. We don't want to do that...everyone likes him...he's worked harder than he's ever worked in his life...but there's more to it...there's a mental side to it; there's a team component side to it...". Acknowledging that the technical "put them back on their heels..." was a mild statement.

Texas Coach Rick Barnes responded
to reporters' questions
but did he have any answers?

Leading 65-52 when Brown was T'ed up, the Horns could score only nine points on their last 16 possessions of the game (0.56 ppp), going 2-12 (no assists) from the field and 5-7 from the line. The Wolfpack scored 21 points on their last 16 possessions (1.56 ppp), converting 6-9 (four assists) from the field to go with 7-11 from the line.

Missing Saturday's semi-final with a rolled ankle
Wolfpack forward Scott Wood
provided outside scoring to complement State's inside game

4. Three For the Post Season? -- I left the 2010 Legends convinced that three of the four teams would play in the post season somewhere (in a tournament that starts with an "N"). Three did, though I was surprised at the details. I am not sure if three of the four teams I saw Saturday and Monday will go to the post season this time. Tournament winner Vanderbilt is the easy pick, assuming they do not hit anymore "Ezeli Bumps" (see Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis), but which among the others will draw a bid? If Oregon State, the other finalist Monday does finish in the top 3/4 of the Pac-12 they will probably be tabbed. The win over Texas would help if there is any doubt, but Jared Cunningham has to show up. The Texas squad was not impressive, especially in the second loss to North Carolina State. But then neither was Michigan last season, and the Wolverines managed a bid as Coach Beilein's squad did mature and gel as the season progressed. North Carolina State did not impress in their semi-final game with Vanderbilt, but C. J. Leslie was back for his first game and Scott Wood was a DNP. The wing was solid, even on a shaky ankle, in the Wolfpack's win over Texas. And Leslie looked more comfortable than in his first game. Project (by Ken Pomeroy subscription) to tie for sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, North Carolina has an experienced squad. With Mark Gottfried at the helm and a staff that includes Bobby Lutz and Rob Moxley, the Wolfpack is better prepared to succeed than any of the past five years.

Texas freshman guard
Sterling Gibbs (#13) saw action in
the Consolation Game Monday

Saint Louis Post Game: Deja Vu

Take Me Home, Country Roads
The first seven possessions went like clockwork, 13 points on 5-8 shooting with three made three point field goals as Villanova jumped out to a 13-5 lead on St. Louis. Then the Billinkens calmed down and began to work their offensive sets. The game tightened up as the Bills took a 12-10 run over the next six minutes to trim two points off of the Wildcats' lead. Then Mouphtao Yarou headed to the bench with his sesond foul of the half, and the wheels fell off of the wagon. Coach Rick Majerus' squad launched a 22-10 onslaught over the last 9:30 of the first period that wiped out Villanova's lead and sent Saint Louis into the lock room with a four point, 38-34 lead. And firm control on the game.

Watching Villanova's defense try to trap and press St. Louis reminded me of a badly played game of keep-away. By the mid point of the second half the relative youth (and indiscipline?) of the Wildcats showed with a series of flairing elbows and flagrant foul calls. Walking a fine line between tough, Big East defense and chippy basketball, the 'Cats found themselves under an unwelcomed refereeing microscope. The irony was that Villanova's offense was not terrible, as in lose-the-game terrible. With a 52.9% eFG% and turnover rate of 18.5%, how could Villanova be losing, and by double digits (the game was in the second half...) at that? The game reminded me of the West Virginia teams under John Beilein. Most of the time the Wildcats got much of what they wanted offensively, but would still lose to a Mountaineer team that understood what plays to run to exploit the Wildcats' help defense. As Blue and White defenders collapsed on the Billiken with the ball driving the lane (or at the elbow), the pass would go into the area just vacated by the "help" a Billiken flashing to the basket or set for a quick three. The Bills converted 14 of 27 three point attempts, far, far to high for any opponent to overcome. It was a game where high rebounding numbers and low turnover rates were marginalized by the extraordinary efficiency offered by the other team.

The bloggers over at offered a brief recap with player grades while the Nova Blog posted a recap followed by a detailed player critique later. The University site posted their AP wire story. The official boxscore is also posted. The breakdown by halves

OpponentSt. Louis 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
An anemic 6.7% offensive rebounding rate in the first half was "corrected" to 37.5% in the second half. Realistically that was probably the only way to boost an already good 56.3% eFG%. Ironically the rebounding improved -- but the conversion rate still dropped. A 52.9% eFG% coupled with a 1.13 PPWS should be good enough offensively to chalk up the win. The Billikens however, sliced up Villanova's defense to the tune of a 64.7% eFG% and 1.30 PPWS, numbers that should draw a comment from Ken Pomeroy and others who track those numbers. Villanova's "help defense" was it's own worst enemy in this game. And the frustration manifested by a number of second half chippy fouls (and Darrun Hilliard's quick exit after his fourth foul) suggests the players knew their best efforts were useless to shut down the offense they faced.

Notes & Observations
1. The assist rate drop from first to second half (75.0 to 30.8) is clear evidence that the offense went away from dribble drive to one-on-one breakdown as a response to being down double digits for much of the perod.

2. Maalik Wayns took a whopping 44% of the shots when he was in the game. Given he played 87.5% of the available minutes at one of the guard positions, his high shooting percentage was not a distortion of the minutes. His 49% possession rate, however, tends to reduce Villanova's offense to one dimension. Stop Wayns and the Wildcats stall.

3. James Bell emerged as a legitimate second option on offense. The sophomore wing took 26.5% of the shots when he was on the floor, with a comparable percentage of the possessions. Now one (or both?) of Mouphtaou Yarou or Dominic Cheek must establish themselves as legitimate second/third scoring options. For Yarou that means staying in the game (and game flow). For Cheek it means shooting/scoring more consistently.

4. The staff used a 10 man rotation again. Minute distribution ranged from five (Ty Johnson to 35 (Wayns) minutes, with eight drawing 10 or more minutes.

5. St. Louis was paced by sophomore guard Jordair Jett who came off of the bench to score 19 points on 7-8 (2-2, 5-6) shooting from the floor and 3-6 from the line. Kwamain Mitchell (32.1% Shot%), Cody Ellis (23.5% Shot%) and Rob Loe (43.6% Shot%) were, along with Jett, the offensive mainstays for St. Louis. Mitchell did not convert efficiently however, and Loe played only nine minutes (taking five field goal attempts in that time span).

Up Next... -- Santa Clara will face Villanova in the 3rd place game on Sunday.

Friday, November 25, 2011

UC Riverside Post Game: Opening Strong

The Burn Offense is Alive and Riverside, California
While it might seem far fetched that a basketball team can create a 25 point winning margin on just 58 (plus or minus 1?) possessions, that is precisely what Villanova did in their first round game with University of California Riverside of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, California. Looking at last season's kenpom ratings this would make some sense, the Wildcats obtained the highest rating among the eight schools invited to participate; UC Riverside had the lowest. Two things happened on the way to the first round...first, the balance of the field was not seeded in the anticipated 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 fashion that one might have expected, and second, the kenpom ratings changed to reflect games played this season, and Villanova fell to #3 according to the kenpom system. The field was seeded to insure an "East-West" game for the finals. The only team in Villanova's bracket not from the Mississippi or east was UC Riverside, the team most likely to lose their first round game. All of the teams in the other bracket come from west of the Mississippi River Valley, Oklahoma, clearly a "southwestern" team is the most easterly team in the bracket. Villanova dismantled UC Riverside 71-46 in the most decisive game so far in the Wildcats' the 2011-12 schedule. The final will feature an East-West match.

The Highlanders held onto the lead for over 10 minutes in the first half. The shot clock, not a hot shooting hand or control of the offensive boards was the key. The Highlanders typically took 20-30 seconds off the clock before they took a field goal attempt. The Wildcats would more often than not gather the defensive rebound and respond with a shot (often a miss) anywhere from four to twenty seconds into the shot clock. That tactic, to "shorten" the game by burning the clock, is an often employed strategy by an overmatched underdog. It makes sense too; by limiting the scoring opportunities the underdog can, in theory, keep the score close, maximizing the impact of high reward offensive tactics like the three point attempt. By the 11 minute mark however, the Highlanders, overmatched on height, had no more fouls to give, and the Wildcats' offense began to grind them down. Freshman off guard Darrun Hilliard hit a three at the 9:30 mark putting Villanova up by one 15-14, and the Wildcats were not headed again. Once on top, the 'Cats took a 17-2 run to close out the half...and the game.

The bloggers over at Nova Blog and attributed UC Riverside's 11 minute lead to hot shooting (the Highlanders) and sloppy play (the Wildcats), both of which were true. Sort of. UC Riverside did score in their first three possessions (which consumed over two minutes on the game clock), but those seven points were half of their entire point production through the first 11 minutes of the half. It took the Highlanders another nine minutes to scored their next seven points. And seven more minutes to score their next two (and last of the half) points. Villanova did go an appalling 2-9 from the field while they were down on the Highlanders, but stayed within contact by shooting 6-6 from the line. While the Highlanders committed seven fouls (putting the 'Cats in the bonus) with a single turnover over that time period, the 'Cats committed four fouls and one turnover by contrast. The University site posted their AP wire story. The official boxscore is also posted. The breakdown by halves

OpponentUC Riverside 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
Villanova broke on top in the first because, though their eFG% was poor enough to be down at the half, was better than the Highlanders...shot defense. The Wildcats took care of the ball (see turnover rate) while forcing turnovers by UC Riverside. Second half stats show improved (reflected in the score margins, which ranged as high as 30 late in the second period, ultimately settling in at 25) shot efficiency (eFG%) coupled with much better offensive rebounding rates, even as the Wildcats continued to care for the ball (see turnover rate). The half-over-half steep drop in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is most likely a reflection of the Highlanders' foul difficulties -- their bigs had to be careful, which may also account for the dramatic increase in Villanova's offensive rebounding rate (24.8 to 64.7).

Notes & Observations
1. The staff appears to have fixed on the starting five, using Maalik Wayns at the point with Darrun Hilliard and Dom Cheek rounding out the back court/wing sports, with James Bell playing the "#4" and Mouphtaou Yarou at the #5. The staff called the numbers for a total of 10 players who were alloted playing time ranging from eight minutes (freshman Ty Johnson again) up to 35 minutes (Wayns). Freshman Achraf Yacoubou drew a modestly surprising 20 minutes, due most likely to Bell's foul problems. Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston played for 17 minutes while fellow freshman Markus Kennedy drew 12 minutes.
2. Yarou and Wayns asserted themselves as hoped for. Yarou scored a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Wayns chipped in a game-high 23 points while the 'Cats had two others, Hilliard (12 points) and Bell (12 points) who also notched double digit minutes. Bell's 12 points were scored in 13 minutes of play, all that could be safely allocated given his foul problems.

3. A crucial and welcomed stat is the point distribution, highlighted in green above. Though Villanova shooters were hitting their three point attempts at a 50% clip, but the guards did not drop out to the arc and start jacking threes. Note points from two point attempts in the second half was 66%, and overall threes accounted for under 30% of the point production. Given the point margin was +20 through much of the second half the back court showed discipline and good judgement by not stepping back taking threes. They also insured that a cold streak would not let the Highlanders back into the game.

4. Wayns took about 40% of the possessions and 38% of the shots when he was on the court. This time he combined high usage with high efficiency, for the kind of production that will earn him some national attention. I have just about accepted the idea that he will be a volumn shooter, not a role I would like to see. Against programs like UC Riverside however, it works. He draws (defensive) attention, which should benefit second and third scoring options like Hilliard, Yarou and Yacoubou, both of whom took between 11% and 21% of the shots. Bell took a surprising 31% of the shots, but consider how little time he actually logged.

5. UC Riverside was paced by Daymond Cowlah, who scored 10 points on 4-7 (2-4 from threes, 2-3 from inside the arc). Team-high rebounding was shared by T.J. Burke and Elliot Berry.

6. Coach Jay Wright, as noted by, logged win #350 for his career.