Monday, January 10, 2011

University of Cincinnati Post Game: 'Cat Fight

Ranked Teams
The Nova Nation watched the second game between two nationally ranked teams this season in Villanov's on campus arena Sunday. They got their money's worth in both of those games. Today the Viilanova Wildcats beat the Cincinnati Bearcats 72-61 at the Pavilion. Corey Fisher broke his shooting slump when he posted 20 points before the intermission on 4-6 overall (3-4 for 3s, 1-2 for 2s) and 9-9 from the line. The numbers held up through the second half. Point guard Maalik Wayns posted 15 point. Between them, the Villanova guards matched the three highest scorers on the Cincinnati squad, Rashad Bishop (14), Yancy Gates (11) and freshman Sean Kilpatrick (11). Though they started strong by forcing two field goal misses and two turnovers in Villanova's first four possessions, while scoring six points on three made field goals, Cincinnati could not maintain the momentum. Villanova launched an 11-2 run to take the lead. Cincinnati would tie three more times over the next four minutes, but they would never retake the lead. More unnerving to the Bearcats than Villanova's defense perhaps, was the officiating. With 10 team fouls recorded by the 2:45 mark, Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin exploded over a non-call and took a technical 30 seconds later. Down by 11 and completely unnerved it seems, the question was whether the Bearcats could hang on until half-time and use the intermission to gather their composure? The answer was "No", as Villanova took one more run, 8-2, before the team adjourned to their respective locker rooms to reflect and regroup.

Shockingly, Cincinnati emerged from half-time and dropped another five points before the second half was two minutes old. Three very quick fouls on Ibrahima Thomas, two personals and a technical, disqualified the senior forward and starter. With the help of their press and trap defense that forced 10 Villanova turnovers and, coupled with a 180 degree turn of the referees, the Bearcats were able to outscore Villanova by 10 the rest of the way. "We put ourselves into a 16 point deficit and could not catch up" was Coach Cronin's analysis of the game. And he was correct, the Bearcats could rally to close the gap to seven twice, but could never get closer.

The Nova Blog posted their recap -- "post game: Villanova 72 vs. Cincinnati 61", as did posted a recap with player stats, which continues their feature of polling the fans to decide player grades. From the ink media, Cincinnati beat writer, Bill Koch, posted a game recap with a Bearcat perspective. There was a DPO sighting (she has dropped the "Pennett" from her nom de plume at ESPN) at the Pavilion. After Coach Cronin finished his post game presser, he and former PDN sportswriter who covered Villanova, Dana Pennett O'Neil, had an impromptu followup session that, along with (as always) a very well written short piece, was posted on ESPN's Basketball Nation Blog. The Athletic Department website posted the official boxscore and the AP wire story, "No. 7 Villanova Beats No. 24 Cincinnati...", led off with Corey Fisher's first half scoring breakout. The breakdown by halves...

Opponent:University of Cincinnati
 Offense Defense
1st2ndGame 1st2ndGame

Green highlighting identifies the good elements of Villanova's game yesterday, while red highlighting identifies elements the are below the levels the team has played to to date. Pace was the just slightly higher than projected by Ken Pomeroy, and the margin was slightly higher, but within each team's comfort zone...

Cincinnati's second half rally was, from a "Four Factors" perspective, paradoxical. How did the Bearcats manage to post 1.05 points per possession when their field goal efficiency rate was in the 30s (percent range that is -- 37.5% eFG%) and even worse than their first half shooting? Check the red highlighted offensive rebounding rate under "Defense" and "Second Half" above. The Bearcats managed to collect nearly 50% of their misses for second chance opportunities. The box score notes Cincinnati scored 15 second chance points, 11 coming in the second half. Both team's turnover rates contributed significantly to the final scoring margin. With two of the conference's elite point guards the Wildcats still managed to lose more than 1-in-4 of their possessions through the entire game, while the Bearcats cut their turnover rate to just over 10% (11.1%) in the second half.

Things We Learned...
1. Cashmere Wright is a jet -- if he could only shoot better...both Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns' unis had scorch marks after the game because Cincinnati's rocket, Cashmere Wright, blew by them all game long. Villanova's two point guards collected eight fouls, and I will tell you Wright got to the line for 10 free throws. You figure it out.
2. Yancy Gates lost a lot of weight -- see the picture at the bottom, Gates is on the right (Ibrahima Thomas is on the left). I did not recognize him and had to ask a Cincinnati student reporter who he was. The weight loss has significantly helped his endurance (he played 33 minutes) and mobility. The junior bfc missed a double-double by one rebound (11 points, nine rebounds).
3. Villanova needs a point guard on the floor at all times -- with both Fisher and Wayns in foul trouble (all five starters had four fouls for the last three minutes of the game), Coach Wright substituted often and several times had eclectic, no point guard line ups on the floor. A good defensive sequence -- Armwood blocked a Gates' jumper right to Mo Sutton, who looking down the court for a targeter for his outlet pass, hesitated when he could not find a pg (both were on the bench). Spotting Cheek on the sideline, he squared his shoulders for the pass, but Cincinnati's Justin Jackson anticipated the target and stepped in for a football-like interception, ball back to Cincinnati. The Bearcats used a 3/4 and full court press when they went down by 21, and found it was extremely effective when the Wildcats had to use taller wings with less than pg-worthy handles. Ball handling was adequate under normal circumstances, but facing a press, both inbounding and getting the ball down the court brought back unpleasant memories of past coaching regimes.
4. Coach Wright is human afterall -- with just under a half minute left in the first half Wright subbed Corey Fisher, who had picked up his second foul five minutes earlier, back into the game. The Coach had rotated Fisher and Wayns (who also had picked up his second 10 seconds earlier than Fisher) through the last five minutes, but Fisher's last substitution of the half was a killer, as the senior picked up number three with 0:11 left (a Cashmere Wright blow-by). During the post game press conference a local reporter (Dan Gelston perhaps?) pressed Coach Wright about the decision to sub Fisher "one last time". After several attempts to explain why he felt stopping a Bearcat rally to close the half was so important (and having a point guard on the court was critical to cutting down on turnovers), the reporter persisted and the Coach finally shrugged his shoulders, laughed and said "Yeah I screwed up...ok I screwed that one up...". Much easier to say I imagine, when your team wins.

Things We Hope...
...besides world peace...
1. Both teams take some positives from the game -- the Bearcats may not have been "undefeated good", but they are a solid squad. I had them pegged as a third quartile team (#9 - #12), and when asked by the ECB to "reassess" in the preconference roundtable, I passed. Their schedule gives anyone who follows D1 basketball this season a moment to consider. The Bearcats definitely cracked late in the first half, but they did not break. Faced with a 21 point deficit and the loss of a big piece of their front court defense, they regrouped and clawed their way back -- well almost back -- into the game. For Villanova's part, the "second line" had the opportunity to feel the pressure of an ever-tightening game. Coach Wright executed several "hockey-line" substitutions to preserve his starters, and Armwood, Cheek, Sutton and Bell had to make plays and learn first-hand that "value the ball" is more than a practice-time coaching mantra. It means something.
2. Corey Fisher's shooting slump is really over. The senior broke out in a big way in the first half, shooting 4-6 overall (3-4, 1-2) and 9-9 from the line for a 91.7% eFG% and 1.95 PPWS (he scored approximately 1.95 points for every field goal attempt) scoring 20 points before the intermission. His body language screamed confidence, and he shot that way. Fisher was 0-2 (0-1 on threes, 0-1 on twos) and 1-2 from the line, in the second half. Plagued for virtually the entire half with 3-4 fouls, he played nine minutes of the second stanza.

Cincinnati players Ibrahima Thomas (l) and Yancy Gates (r)
take questions after the game

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