Sunday, January 2, 2011

Preview -- Rutgers #01

Old Faces, New Beginnings
Rutgers and Villanova will open their Big East seasons in a noon game on Sunday January 2 at the Pavilion on Villanova's Main Line campus. Each squad returns most of their rosters from 2010, so there will be many familiar faces on both sides of the ball. A new/old face will belong to Mike Rice, in his first season as Rutgers' head coach. Right face, wrong context, as Rice came over from Robert Morris University, the school that took Villanova to overtime as a #15 seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The Colonials bowed, by 3 points, after a very spirited 45 minutes of play. This will be Coach Rice's first trip to the Pavilion as a head coach...

St. Joseph'sW (H)+9L (A)-6
MaristW (H)+37W (H)+16
MonmouthW (A)+40W (A)+23

The Knight's best OOC win was a 16 point victory over Miami FL (ACC, 11-3, RPI #26). Their worst loss came at the hands of North Carolina (ACC, 9-4, RPI #21), a 23 point spanking at Madison Square Garden four days before their Big East opener at Villanova. The outcome is actually a step back from their 14 point 2009 loss (81-67) to the Tar Heels. ...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Rice hit the recruiting trail even before he unpacked his bags. Most of the commitments however, will not be seen until next fall. In the meantime, he found a player or two to round out this season's roster, and maybe contribute more than scout team minutes. The Scarlet Knight back court will most likely feature seniors James Beatty (6-2, 190 lbs), a JUCO who joined the Knights for the 2010 season, and Mike Coburn (6-0, 185 lbs), who has started off and on though his four year career. Sophomore wing Dane Miller (6-7, 215 lbs), gives Rutgers a 'tweener who can play in either the back court or front court as the need arises. The front court will feature red shirt senior Jonathan Mitchell (6-7, 225 lbs), a transfer from Florida and High School teammate of Mike Coburn, who will play the #4, and Gilvydas Biruta (6-8, 230 lbs), a freshman out of St. Benedict's in Newark, NJ.

Coach Rice uses a nine man rotation, look for freshman guard/forward Mike Poole (6-5, 190 lbs), sophomore bfc Austin Johnson (6-8, 250 lbs), fifth year senior forward Robert Lumpkin (6-7, 215 labs) and freshman guard Austin Carroll (6-3, 200 lbs) to log minutes, double digits for each would not be surprising. In that group, Poole is the scorer.

Villanova has used the same starting five -- Corey Fisher and Maalik Ways will split the point duties with Fisher shifting to the off guard when the staff wants to push the ball up the floor. Corey Stokes, who has found consistency with his outside shot and emerged as the scoring leader to this point in the season will take the third guard spot, playing mostly on the wing. The front court positions will be manned by Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou. Pena is a senior who has started off and on, for the past three seasons, mostly on for the past two. Villanova's rotation can go to 11, but nine, the of players who logged time versus Temple on Thursday, is more typical, espeically in a closely contested game. Freshman wing James Bell, whose rehabilitation has proceeded very well, sophomores Dominic Cheek, Maurice Sutton and Isaiah Armwood logged time in the Temple game. Cheek and Armwood saw 16 and 14 minutes apiece, while Sutton and Bell logged a bit less time.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Rutgers plays a slightly higher-than-average possession game (68.5 possessions, adjusted according to Ken Pomeroy's Rutgers Team Page -- the D1 average is 67.3), while Villanova prefers a pace just slightly higher. Neither team would be uncomfortable with a faster pace, and though Pomeroy projects 67 possessions, 70+ should not surprise. A "Four Factors" comparison when Rutgers has the ball...

When Rutgers has the ball...
Knight O49.617.932.931.1
Wildcat D42.419.025.030.8

RU's offense ranks, according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report, in the middle of Division 1 (a bit more than one standard deviation from the mean). Rutgers two problems in converting possessions into points comes from weak offensive rebounding (they do not get more than the average for second chance points) and they do not get to the line much. Their shot conversion rates are...average, not terrible, but not elite either. The S. Knights' biggest weakness comes at the line, they do not shoot free throws particularly well. Rutgers does not want to be in a close game that may have to be decided at the line. Villanova has become particulary good at defending the shot, their eFG% defense is ranked #12 in D1. Granted the OOC slate to this point has not featured strong shooting teams, but the difference here suggests a long afternoon for the Scarlet Knights, particularly if they do not start out strong, as the Wildcats are also very strong defensive rebounders (ranked #9). If the Knights miss their shots, they will most likely not get many second chances. The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Rutgers' defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.116.935.342.7
Knight D45.325.229.638.8

The Knights adjusted defense is 95.4, ranked #84 for Division 1, definitely among the top third of the division. They are credible shot defenders (good at defending both the two and the three, but ranked among the elite at defending the two), and enhance that strength with a very strong turnover rate, typically causing opponents to lose a quarter of their possessions without a shot. When opponents miss, the Scarlet Knights are likely to net the rebound, another significant improvement over last season's squad. Rebounding under Villanova's basket is a strength-to-strength match up that could prove to be critical to the outcome of the game.

Want to Beat Rutgers? Then...
The most significant determinates for this matchup include shooting and rebounding. And it is not close...
1. Hit your shots -- oddly more important than defending their shooting. The S. Knights have lost every game where they have allowed their opponents to post an eFG% of 55.6% or better, and have won every game where they limited their opponents to 48.7 or worse. Villanova averages 50.1%, and has shot better than 48% eFG in nine of their 12 games. Stokes and company may shoot below that 55.6% threshold, but they will not shoot 48% or less.
2. Control the offensive boards. Rutgers grabs 32.9% of their misses, and is 4-3 when they grab a lower percentage. They are 1-2 when they have grabbed less than 28% of their misses. Villanova typically limits opponents to 25%, and has limited opponents to fewer than 32% of their misses in nine of their 12 games.
3. Control the defensive boards. When Rutgers is 1-3 when limited to <28% of their misses. Villanova typically limits their opponents to 25.1% of their misses. Rutgers typically grabs 32.9% of their misses. Villanova has yielded that high a percentage of their opponents' offensive boards only three times. The 'Cats are 9-0 when limiting opponents to 32% or less.

...Rutgers' defense is good, but the 'Cats have faced better this season. After the big game with Temple (elite defense, good offense) the fans can only hope that Villanova has had time to refocus and prepare for the Scarlet Knights.

I will be live blogging the game for Rush the Court tomorrow. Drop by and chat if you have the chance.

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