The Billikens' Northern Country Sojourn
Coach Rick Majerus decided to cash in his foreign tour chip on a six day (August 22 - 27), five game tour of Ontario Province, Canada. The Billikens took benefit of the NCAA-sanctioned 10 days of off season practice to prepare for the tour, conducting 15 full-team practices on 10 separate days between August 1 and August 19. The Saint Louis Men's basketball website did post box scores for three of the five games, along with write-ups/recaps for virtually every game. Unfortunately those were pulled down at some point on September 1. I located a box score of the uncompleted game, the Billikens' fourth game, (their first game) against the Carleton University Ravens, on the Carleton University website. St. Louis compiled a 3-2 record for the five games, routing Windsor University (98-57), the University of Western Ontario (88-59) and the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees (80-61) before falling twice to Carleton University 80-56 and 78-73 on successive nights. While the Canadian teams that make up the CIS have been variously described as comparable to Division 2 or Division 3 NCAA teams, CIS Hoops blogger Marc Wacyk wrote a background piece for vbtn last September, which suggested the top CIS schools were probably comparable to mid-level Division 1 schools. The Carleton Ravens team that beat Saint Louis twice logged a 34-1 record last season on route to their seventh CIS Championship in the last nine years, and would probably rank somewhere in the #120-#200 range in the RPI. The Ravens were "fully stocked" for the Billikens, by the way, having the services of 6-6 guard Cole Hobin and 6-8 forward Tyson Hynes, both of whom played for the Silver medalist Canadian WUG team in China earlier in the month. Those were two players not available to Raven Coach Dave Smart when Carleton played St. Louis' conference mate La Salle back on August 9. I compiled the box scores to develop an "possess-based overview" of the tour...
Note the data includes box scores from four of the five games. Saint Louis' record for those four games was 2-2. The pace is a bit deceptive as the Bills and their opponents logged 73 (Windsor), 65 (Ottawa), 64 (Carleton) and 64 (Carleton) -- adjusted for a 40 minute game -- in the four games. The pace in the last three games suggests the Bills were rounding into form for the season, as Majerus-coached teams are typically among the lowest 15% in Division 1. PPP is short for points per possession, an estimate (derived from "points scored/possession") of the possession-based rate at which the team scored or allowed, points. Explanations for the other stats can be found here on Pomeroy's explanation for his Team Pages. Look for his explanation for Oliver's Four Factors.
Keeping in mind these were exhibition games, some of the numbers suggest St. Louis is farther along than they have been at the start of practice the past few seasons. If the pace suggests the team is settling into the deliberate offensive rhythm Coach Majerus prefers, the offensive production (1.08 ppp) has to be gratifying as well. Billiken teams since Majerus' arrival have been offensively challenged, frequently posting offensive ratings (ppp *100) of less than 100. In the team's best season offensively, 2009, they registered an Offensive Rating of 100.1. Shot efficiency, and Points per Weighted Shot (PPWS) indicate the team converts when they are able to get off an attempt. Of the other offensive stats, turnover rate (TOR%) is the most troubling. St. Louis, with a possession rate in the low 60s cannot turnover one-in-five possessions and continue to convert in a relatively efficient (>1.00 ppp) manner. Controlling turnovers will no doubt make the Fall Practice "To Do List" (second only to shot defense -- check out the eFG% under defense).
A glance at the defensive numbers suggests there is more work to do on that side of the ball. Especially troubling is the possession rate (1.00), the shot efficiency and PPWS, all of which suggest an uncharacteristically porous defense. The Billikens under Majerus have been "defense first" teams (typically posting defensive ratings in the 90.8 - 98.2 range -- about 0.91 - 0.98 points per possession) that limit opponents' scoring by closing out on the shooter, limiting second chance opportunities (OR%) and keeping opponents off the line.
A Look at the Players
Compiling stats for the individual players may be able to give us a sense of where the Billikens' offense will come from in 2012...
Kyle Cassity, Jimmy Remke and Emmanuel Tselentakis logged no minutes on the trip. Brian Daly saw less than a minute in the last game (versus Carleton). The players are presented in order by the percentage of the possessions they took when they were on the court, which should give us an indication of each squad member's impact on the offense and game. The minutes played (Min%) is a secondary consideration.
Kwamain Mitchell showed the rust accumulated by a season's inactivity (see his turnover rate and possession rate, both are too high), but with more play he will again be a force in Atlantic-10 conference play. The red shirt junior was injured in the first Carleton game (which led to the game being called at the 36+ minute mark) and did not play in the fifth game. A follow up report indicated no fractures were detected in a post game examination in an Ottawa hospital. Follow up evaluations are expected. The possession and shot rates suggest St. Louis' offense will be initiated and driven by the back court (Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett and A-10 ROY Dwayne Evans) with help from the wings (Cody Ellis and Brian Conklin). Among the front court/low post players Rob Loe was active, but plagued by horrible shooting run (6-26 ovreall, 3-13 on three's and an identical 3-13 for two point attempts) negated his offensive board work. John Manning and Cory Ramekun, the balance of the front court contingent, played limited roles in the offense (see Poss% and Shot%). Manning compensated for some horrible shooting by getting to the line (see his FTA/FGA), while Remekun posted high conversion rates (and the ability to get to the line to finish) in a limited offensive role. Both showed offensive rebounding ability, a virtue that should persuade Majerus to use them throughout the season.
False Positives & Other Thoughts
These were exhibition games, and had St. Louis finished with a 5-0 record tempered expectations would still be in order. Teams that beat Carleton do not always go on to have great seasons (ask St. John's...), but teams that lose to Carleton tend to struggle (see Illinois in 2008 among others...). That is the background we need to use when evaluating St. Louis' two losses to Carleton. Though the Bills put forth a better effort in the second game (1.07 ppp vs. 1.12 ppp for the Ravens), they still lost by five, 73-78. The second cautionary note (third if you count Kwamain Mitchell's injury in the first Carleton game) is defense. Majerus-coached teams do not give up points, but this Bills team ceded more than 1.00 ppp in both Carleton losses, and 0.93 to the Gee-Gees in game three. The team will have to do better to have the kind of season that will warrent post season consideration. Look for St. Louis to follow a traditional Majerus trajectory -- get better as the season progresses. If SI's Andy Glockner's survey of Luck is correct, 2012 is the season Billiken fans have been looking forward to ever since Majerus took the helm.