Friday, January 21, 2011

Preview -- Syracuse

The Dome Dwellers...
When #7 Villanova visits Syracuse Saturday at noon for the front end of their home-away 2011 season conference series. they should expect to step onto the court of the famed Carrier Dome to the booes (and cheers?) of 30,000 spectators. That is not a misprint, Syracuse University announced earlier this week that 34,000 tickets had been sold, putting Saturday's tilt on course to break the existing on-campus attendance record of 34,616, set at last season's Syracuse GameDay (also versus Villanova)...

Common Opponent
Cincinnati is it actually. Interesting that these two Northeast basketball programs typically have so few common opponents outside of conference play. Each allocates a large part of their out of conference schedule to local competition. For Villanova this presents as Big 5 play (four OOC opponents each season), while for Syracuse, Colgate aside, this translates into a sample of in state opponents from the Western Tier and metropolitan New York City. Their single common opponent is Cincinnati, out of the Big East...


The pace for the Cincinnati-Syracuse game was surprisingly low. A possession-rate closer to Cincinnati's preference than the Orange. This is one of the newer characteristics of the Syracuse program this season -- a willingness to adapt to (or inability to dictate?) the opponent's pace/style of play. How, if Villanova indeed adopts a faster tempo, will Syracuse adjust? Villanova's inability to control the boards in the Cincinnati game, especially when the outcome was a win, is very uncharacteristic of Wildcat games this. Board control, especially on defense is a priority for the Villanova defense. Compare the offensive and defensive ratings of the two squads versus Cincinnati with the season-long ratings scraped from Ken Pomeroy's team pages (below). Generally Villanova's offense is rated better than Syracuse's, while Orange defense is higher ranked than the Wildcats', yet in each played Cincinnati, Syracuse's offense fared better than Villanova's while the Wildcats' defense did a better job on the Bearcats than did the Orange.

Syracuse's best OOC win was a 14 point victory over Michigan State (Big Ten, 11-6, 4-2, RPI #40), a win that looked better last December than it does now. Best conference wins include the 76-59 road win at St. John's (11-6, 4-3, RPI #36) and at home versus Cincinnati (16-3, 3-3, RPI #35), a convincing 15 point win. Their single loss, a 12 point loss at Pittsburgh earlier this week, did little to diminish their tournament resume.

Villanova's marquee out of conference win to date came against the Owls of Temple University (A-10, 13-4, 3-1, RPI #43). The wildcats' best win overall was a 14 point victory over Louisville (15-3, 4-1, RPI #16) in conference play last week. Villanova's two losses came to Top 10 ranked opponents, Tennessee (SEC 12-6, 2-2, RPI #16) in December (which like Michigan State, looked less damaging at the time than it does now...), and Connecticut (15-2, 4-2, RPI #8) last Monday...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Preseason predictions for the Orange's demise were premature. Returning 55.9% of their 2010 minutes and 52.8% of their 2010 points, many (this previewer among them) wondered if the cohesion of last season's team, "Seven Starters" as Coach Boeheim called them, would return as well...and if it did not, how would the staff structure an offense from the parts that were left (or coming in as freshmen). The team has survived the dings and nicks that are the lot of almost every D1 team these days, and has put together a strong post season resume.

Coach Boeheim has abandoned an "iron man" rotation of seven and typically reaches nine deep into his bench which he has done in nearly every game. The starting for the Orange will have a very traditional look. The backcourt at tip-off will feature two guards, sophomore Brandon Triche to handle the ball with junior Scoop Jardine, playing off guard, though either can man the point (and at one time or another during the game, will) while the other runs off screens to find an open spot on the floor. The front court has been a solid set of junior Kris Joseph at the #3, senior Rick Jackson to start at the #4 and freshman Fab Melo to man the #5. When Joseph suffered a concussion and sat at Pittsburgh, sophomore James Southerland took his turn at the #3. Expect substitutions early and often. Melo, a 7-0 import who is farther along defensively than offensively, averages 10.7 minutes per game (game, not half, game), with Southerland, freshman CJ Fair and freshman Baye Moussa Keita drawing minutes as the game progresses. Melo, Keita, Fair, Southerland and Jackson form a flexible #4/#5 rotation, where many times (at least) one of Melo/Jackson/Keita may play alongside Fair or Southerland. Relatively rare of late, even sophomore Mookie Jones may see time. The Orange back court has a similar, flexible rotation that includes freshman Dion Waiters, who typically plays about 16-20 minutes per game (he averages 16.0 minutes through 19 games) to take the point and allow Triche to move to the off guard spot (as Jardine then rotates up to the #3 or out to the bench). Southerland started when Joseph was out, and either he or Fair can rotate "down" to the #3 should the staff look for more length.

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 (more or less) with his outside shot before a hamstring strain in the Cincinnati game diminished his jumper, will take the third guard spot, and play mostly on the wing, though in a pinch either he or guard Dominic Cheek can bring the ball up court and set the offense. 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, those five players who logged time versus Cincinnati on Sunday and freshman wing James Bell, sophomores Dom Cheek, Maurice Sutton and Isaiah Armwood, is more typical, especially in a closely contested game. Cheek, who like Kris Joseph, sat a game with a ding (in Cheek's case, it was his knee), has practiced and may see action in this game.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Pace may become a tug of war between the squads, though Syracuse has shown a willingness to adapt to the preferences of the other team. Should there be "accommodation", expect a pace in the 70s. If tempo becomes a point of contention, then expect the game to be played in the high 60s. Villanova's pace, the Connecticut game excepted, has trended up for the past several weeks, a bit counter intuitive given conference games can settle into chess match-paced affairs. A "Four Factors" comparison when Louisville has the ball...

When the Orange has the ball...
Cuse O53.817.335.637.9
Wildcat D43.619.527.033.5

The Orange offense is ranked #16 according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report, very much among the elites in Division 1. Syracuse does two things very, very well -- they convert their shots to points (especially 2 point attempts, they convert a strong 54.3% of their 2s) and they do not turnover the ball much, giving themselves every opportunity to end the poseesion with a shot attempt, either from the field or on the line. They are good at covering the offensive boards, thereby giving themselves second chance opportunities. This mtachup is crucial for Villanova, as the Wildcats are among the elites for defensive rebounding. In their two losses they were unable to control the defensive boards, allowing their opponents to gather >35% of their misses. Syracuse's biggest weakness comes at the line, they do not shoot free throws particularly well, and will 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 #16 in D1. If Villanova struggles to contain Syracuse's offensive rebounding in the first half, look for a half-time adjustment, either a combination of longer players (Armwood, Pena, Yarou in together, possibly with Cheek or Bell and one of Fisher and Wayns for example) or sending three or four to the boards. Expect each staff to juggle their substitutions to gain an advantage on the boards. The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Syracuse's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.818.036.644.2
Cuse D43.321.631.527.0

The Cuse's adjusted defense is 86.4, ranked #12, among the elites for Division 1. They are strong shot defenders (good at defending both the two and the three, but ranked among the elite at defending the two), and enhance that strength by forcing a high turnover rate, typically causing opponents to lose more than a fifth of their possessions without a shot. When opponents miss however, the Orange are just a touch above average at netting the rebound. Rebounding under Villanova's basket is a strength-to-weakness match up that could prove to be critical to the outcome of the game. The key indicator for Syracuse's defense however is fouling -- they don't. For Villanova, used to netting 25% or more of their points at the line may well have to find another source for posting points.

Want to Beat Syracuse? Then...
Shooting is always critical, make them miss and convert your own, but...
1. Put empty trips on their offense. Syracuse has played three games where their offense averaged less than a point per possession. Their record is 3-1 in those games, and of the three they won (vs. Detroit, vs. Seton Hall and vs. Michigan) their margin of victory averaged 6.3 points. In the rest of their games (15-0, all wins), they averaged a 18.0 point winning margin.
2. Limit second chance opportunities -- rebound under Syracuse's basket. In games where the opponent has held the Orange to <30% of their misses, Syracuse is 3-1, with an average winning margin of 6.0 points.

...If you are going to the game, bring binoculars, from the upper decks the court will be about the size of your TV screen. Pomeroy is calling this one for Syracuse, 68 possessions and a six point winning margin for Syracuse, with a 72% degree of certainty.

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