Monday, September 12, 2011

Rising Sophomores -- Ten to Watch

"Rising Sophomores" or "Rising" Sophomores?
Classes have resumed, these 10 are by class sophomores now. The only "rising" they will do when the 2011-12 games commence in November will be visibility, to their fans (if they are not noted already in a parcel of season previews...) and perhaps to the media when the boxscores are posted. Don't look for Jeremy Lamb here, the Big East All-Conference Rookie Teamer had a pretty good tournament in Latvia this summer (even if Team USA did not medal). The same goes for Sean Kilpatrick, Shabazz Napier, Gilvydas Biruta and Cleveland Melvin...Big East All-Rookies all. Using Pomeroy's classification system as a guide, I am scouting the "Role" or "Significant Contributor" players, players who took about 14%-24% of their team's shots when they were on the floor last season. Sometimes the possessions might be a bit light (*cough* Bryce Cotton), or even the minutes (), but with 2011 teammates moving on the roles will shift for some of the Big East Conference members, and more than a few of these players could grow into "Major Contributor"s over the course of the course of next season -- though most probably won't. Pomeroy discusses growth "probabilities" in "Putting Individual Efficiency into Perspective" over at The Basketball Prospectus back in 2007. Many thanks to Ken Pomeroy for the data at his website.

On Offense...
Bryce CottonPC36.8112.812.214.31.01
Gorgui DiengVille31.6112.718.516.61.22
C.J. FairCuse42.3109.517.618.01.12
Eric AtkinsNDU62.5109.215.313.11.06
Nate LubickGTown48.9108.913.310.91.17
Dion WaitersCuse39.3107.621.324.41.05
Talib ZannaPitt23.4106.718.216.31.10
Roscoe SmithUConn62.3106.214.415.00.98
Fuquan EdwinHall61.497.217.320.10.97
Gerard ColemanPC71.491.519.620.90.92

An unintended consequence of the failed Joseph Young recruitment, then Providence Head Coach Keno Davis found himself picking through the last few "untakens" in August of 2010. A well-regarded off guard Bryce Cotton was still "available", but eligibility issues had severely degraded the Arizona native's value to the BCS-level programs. Signed literally days before the start of classes for the Fall 2010 semester, Cotton was cleared to play by the NCAA, and the Friars had themselves a pretty good guard. Cotton spent a good piece of the season working his way into the rotation (no doubt in large part from his abysmal three point conversion rate, 25.9%), but even Davis could not overlook a decent two point conversion rate (51%) and some defensive skills. Cotton is not a strong breakout candidate, but he should earn more minutes and a larger role (more than the "invisible" 12.2% possession rate from 2011) in the no doubt retooled Friar offense rookie head coach Ed Cooley will unveil for 2012. Short of scholarships and the clear loser in the fight for the #3 spot in the Husky lineup (a brush with the law was no help either...), sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel packed his bags at the end of the spring semester and headed out to Hofstra, leaving Roscoe Smith as the his-to-lose small forward for 2012. Though overshadowed by fellow freshmen Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb, Smith had a promising opening campaign. Smith can help his profile (and no doubt draw more possessions) if he can improve his shot accuracy (note his 43.8% eFG%, due to a 30% conversion rate from beyond the arc, coupled with an underwhelming 43.1% two point conversion rate). Louisville's roster going into the 2011 season was a mess. In addition to the "usual" preseason injury list, the Coach Pitino also lost 5th year senior transfer Roburt Sallie and freshman Justin Coleman due to NCAA eligibility issues. Also among the NCAA-mandated casualties, Gorgui Dieng was, as of October 5, inelibigible to suit up. In Dieng's case Coach Pitino appealed, and in an uncharacteristically good turn of fortune, the Cardinals won and Dieng played the season. Though he played a bit better than 30% of the minutes in the low post, note that he was out five games due to a head injury sustained during the West Virginia game in late January. The injury may have set the center-in-waiting back a bit, but since Terrence Jennings moved on at the end of the spring semester, Dieng will move into the role. While his rebounding (and block rate) numbers are impressive, his offense is efficient enough to warrent a larger role in the offense.

Four Factors...
Gorgui DiengVille31.661.813.218.947.3
Talib ZannaPitt23.456.316.318.359.2
Nate LubickGTown48.956.07.924.144.0
C.J. FairCuse42.354.610.015.442.4
Dion WaitersCuse39.348.42.615.225.3
Eric AtkinsNDU62.548.32.320.050.7
Fuquan EdwinHall61.446.33.311.723.8
Bryce CottonPC36.845.33.18.634.9
Gerard ColemanPC71.444.
Roscoe SmithUConn62.343.88.514.633.0

Someone will man the low post for the Panthers this season. Khem Birch may be the flavor of the month in Pittsburgh, but look for either Dante Taylor (one of nine juniors featured in an earllier post) or Talib Zanna to start with the other gathering over 40% of the playing time. Individually either would start for at least half of the teams in the conference. Together they give Coach Dixon 10 fouls and 40 minutes of low domination. And that is bad news for anyone playing Coach Dixon's squad this season. A side-b-side favors Taylor in most respects, and given that both have offensive rebound rates of 16+% is very bad news for opposing centers. Zanna's one advantage is fouls, giving and taking, with very little fall-off in the other offensive categories. With more playing time the sophomore's game should develop to the point where Pitt fans will hardly miss McGhee. Georgetown's Julian Vaughn is gone, leaving the low post up for grabs, sort of. Look for Nate Lubick, who pulled down nearly 49% of the minutes in a forward/center rotation, to split Vaughn's minutes with senior Henry Sims, junior Hollis Thompson and a slew of freshmen forwards. A key for Lubick's progress in 2012 will no doubt be his assist rate, 12.1% last season. As a forward/center in a system that values passing as a principal offensive weapon, should Lubick's assist rate rise to somewhere in the 15-18% range, the fans and staff will take it as a sign that he "gets it". Though very well regarded by the scouting services going into Syracuse, point guard-in-waiting Dion Waiters was supposed to fit in a three guard rotation with Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche to learn the college game under Coach Beoheim. If the season had gone to script, the three should have formed a potent combination that would have allowed any two on the court for any possession to set the table and run the offense while the other roamed the perimeter. Waiters logged a surprisingly low 39% of the minutes in a season that showed promise but a few false starts. The freshman was his own worst enemy at times, and with Michael Carter-Williams waiting in the wings (the next heir apparent to Jonny Flynn?), this could be a crucial season for the sophomore. Coach Boeheim also brought in a slew of wing/forwards, making a crowded rotation from last season even more competitive. CJ Fair logged solid numbers in his freshman campaign, but even with Mookie Jones consigned to the deep bench, Fair will have to function in a rotation that includes junior James Southerland, senior Kris Joseph and a handful of freshmen hopefuls.

Eric AtkinsNDU23.
Dion WaitersCuse17.
Nate LubickGTown12.
Gerard ColemanPC8.
Gorgui DiengVille8.218.813.71.7
Fuquan EdwinHall7.511.41.72.8
Bryce CottonPC5.
C.J. FairCuse4.
Roscoe SmithUConn3.313.74.91.2
Talib ZannaPitt3.

Notre Dame's point guard Eric Atkins, Providence off guard Gerald Coleman and Seton Hall's small forward Fuquan Edwin stepped into larger roles than usually expected of freshmen. For Coleman and Edwin, the minutes were large even if the role was closer to "Role Player" level, but neither produced efficient offensive numbers. Edwin's numbers should improve in his second year with Coach Kevin Willard. For Coleman (and Cotton), the future is a bit less certain, as the Friars replaced the basketball staff in the off season. How those two fit with the system and routines/policies established by Coach Ed Cooley will most likely determine how they do over the next season. Atkins played a limited role in the Irish offense (per his Poss%, 15.3%), confined to largely bringing up the ball and setting up the offense. His assist rate was top 500 (per Ken Pomeroy) 23.6%, confirming that veteran players shouldered the major responsibility for scoring. Expect Atkins to be more assertive in 2012.

What About...?
Syracuse's center and 2011 preseason Rookie of the Year selection Fab Melo saw very limited action, even aa he started most of the Orange's games. Prospects are that he will share the low post with fellow sophomore Baye Moussa Keita. Rebounding aside, neither was essential to the Orange's scoring last season. Marquette off guard Vander Blue had a credible season, but faded near the end. Freshman fatigue perhaps? Center Davante Gardner on the other hand blossomed in the late season, seeing more minutes as the season progressed, becoming almost an equal partner with junior Chris Otule. Gardener may move ahead of Otule this season, as he showed better offensive skills. Gardener's progress should be interesting, Coach Buzz Williams has not had a low post player with Gardener's skills.

Hits and Misses...Last Season's "Rising Sophomores"
Last season's list produced a few (very few...) hits, and more than a few misses. Hollis Thompson increased his minutes, role in Georgetown's offense and his offensive rating in 2011. Not a breakout season, but very solid progress that suggests he will be an All-Conference player this season or next. Others who showed progress last season include Dante Taylor, the Pittsburgh #4/#5 who increased his minutes very slightly, but bumped his offensive rating, suggesting steady growth and continued developement, Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova's #5 whose minutes and role (Poss% and Shot%) within the offense grew (even if his offensive rating drifted downward a bit) and Peyton Siva, Louisville's point guard who doubled his minutes, bumped his offensive rating while maintaining a "Significant Contributor" role in Louisville's offense. Mookie Jones disappeared to a deep part of Syracuse's bench, DNP for 21 games. Dominic Cheek struggled 2011, though his minutes increased, his offenive efficiency declined and his role remained constant from his freshman season ("Role Player"). Cincinnati's Jaquon Parker, like Jones, did not seem to get his game on track last season, and faded to the deep rotation by season's end. Rakeem Buckles became the last injury casualty in the 2011 season. The then-sophomore was injured several times, missing 17 of the Cardinal's last 22 games. West Virginia's wing Dalton Pepper transferred to Temple at the end of the 2011 season.

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