Across the Great Divide
Although three of the four teams that finished in the third quartile earned bids to the NCAA Tournament in March 2011 -- one of them won the National Championship -- this is still the lower half of the conference, and over the course of 18 games those four could win at most half of the conference games scheduled for them. The conference will not send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament this season, but four teams will still finish between #9 and #12, and win at most nine games against their conference mates.
This third quartile is an interesting mix of teams that seemed to do better last season (Georgetown & St. John's) matched with teams that seem to be treading water (Seton Hall & Villanova).
Team Thumbnail (in 300 words...more or less)
Georgetown -- Funky February, part 1
Since running to the Final Four in 2006-07, the Hoyas' monthly cumulative record has been...
While Coach John Thompson's squad does play a few out of conference games after December (and one or two conference games over that time period in December...), the table hints strongly that Georgetown consistently struggles with the backend of their conference schedule. Is the composition of schedule at fault? Looking at the composite using possession-based stats (along with Pythagoreas...) and we get a bit more insight on the problem...
The Hoyas are always good for one or two early season Whaaat? losses. The table indicates they tend to come in December (note the difference between wins in the first table, and the Pythagorean Winning Percentage -- PWP -- in the second table...the Hoyas should have more wins in December that they actually had). Most interesting however, is the loss of offense in February. Defense seems to improve as they move from January into February, but the offense tapers off. A quick reaction might be that the Georgetown teams suffer from freshmen fatigue, but the teams last season and 2009-10 did not to their freshmen for points.
The Hoyas return 48.5% of their 2010-11 minutes and 42.5% of their points, a reflection of the large roles played by Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Julian Vaughn. Of the returning players, wing Jason Clark (30.6 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and forward Hollis Thompson (23.3 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG) were the most prolific scorers. They will most likely be joined by sophomore power forward Nate Lubick (19.7 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG). All three started at least 13 games in 2010-11 and will form the nucleus around which Coach Thompson rebuild the team. If the Hoyas had an abundance of guard/wings last season, the emphasis should shift to the inside this season as four of the five members of the freshmen class, Otto Porter (6-9, 200 lbs, small forward), Mikael Hopkins (6-8, 210 lbs, center), Jabril Trawick (6-5, 200 lbs, off guard), Tyler Adams (6-9, 255 lbs, center) and Greg Whittington (6-8, 195 lbs, power forward), are forwards or centers. Lacking a point guard in the cohort, the staff will most likely tab Markel Starks, who appeared in 30 games last season, for the job. Expect the back court rotation to include Starks, Clark and Trawick. Expect the freshmen to push senior Henry Sims 14.0 MPG, 3.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG) for time in the low post.
The Maui Invitational will test Georgetown early as the Hoyas face (after a "campus" game versus UNC-Greensboro) Kansas in the opening round in Hawaii. The second round will be either UCLA or Chaminade, with a third round opponent one of Duke, Michigan, Memphis or Tennessee. Coach Thompson's squad travels to Birmingham to face SEC contender Alabama as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge December 1. The Maui Invitational, Alabama and a late December meeting with Memphis (a possible rare second meeting given the Tigers are also in the Maui field) are the Hoyas' toughest out of conference matches. One or two losses are possible, but should the Hoyas be undefeated going into their conference opening game with Louisville (in Louisville) the game will most likely be billed as a Top 15 meeting. Mirror games with Marquette, Providence and St. John's should be a relief given the rebuilding job Coach Thompson faces. A 3-3 record would be a disappointment, with worse a problem, as the Hoyas travel to Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia for games this season. Out of a home slate of Cincinnati, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Rutgers, South Florida and Villanova (plus the three mirrors) the Hoyas will have to do better than 4-5 for any chance at a 9-9 (or better) conference record. If past is prelude, look at the number of losses Georgetown has sustained through January 31. If it is four or fewer, then double it (again plus/minus one) for February.
Seton Hall-- If He Knew Then What He Knows Now?
The former Iona coach sustained the two month loss of All-Conference player Jeremy Hazell and still managed to finish with a 13-17 record (7-11 in conference) on the strength of a 5-6 close that included wins over Syracuse, St. John's and Marquette. The conference welcomed four new coaches into their ranks last season, and Willard coached his charges to a Big East Tournament seed higher than two of them. The Pirates return 46.2% of their 2010-11 minutes and 45.7% of their scoring, nearly 10% below the conference-wide average. Worse, the staff has no transfers (or JUCOs...) available this season. The staff does welcome a five man, point guard-heavy freshman class, the most highly regarded of whom, Aaron Cosby (6-2, 195 lbs) out of Northfield-Mt. Hermon in Massachusetts, will no doubt have an opportunity to play this season, whether as the off guard to senior Jordan Theodore (30.2 MPG, 11.0 PPG, 4.4 APG), or at the point while Theodore roams and looks for his shot. Starting #4 Herb Pope (27.1 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG) also returns, hopefully 100% recovered from the 2010 off season hospitalization that seemed to impair him through the 2010-11 season. Sophomore wing forward Fuquan Edwin (24.7 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG) who received a baptism of fire last season, is a third returnee with starting experience. Look for sophomore forwards Patrik Auda and Aaron Geramipoor to assume larger roles in the rotation this season. Auda, a Euro-style #4, averaged 15 minutes in 24 appearances last season, as he converted three point attempts at a 40% clip in a very limited offensive role for Willard's squad. Freshman forward Brandon Mobley is rehabbing from a summer league injury (and surgery), while Kevin Johnson (6-9, 240 lbs) will see time at the #4/#5. Look for the freshmen guards Freddie Wilson (6-2, 175 lbs), Sean Grennan (6-2, 170 lbs) and Haralds Karlis (6-5, 185 lbs) to see some rotation time early. Karlis, like Geramipoor and Auda, is a graduate of the Canarias Basketball Academy.
The Pirates have an early test at the Charleston Classic, an early season invitational set with a surprisingly (if Dan Hanner's projections are accurate) even field. LSU, Northwestern and Georgia Tech are the "name" teams, but Saint Joseph's, Tulsa and VCU (Seton Hall's first opponent) and the Pirates have good chances to advance to the finals. Three wins against that field would be an early lift to the program. Auburn (Big East/SEC Challenge), Wake Forest and a road game at Dayton round out the out of conference schedule. A more experienced Dayton squad beat the Pirates at the Rock last December, but with a rookie coach and a depleted squad, the Pirates have a chance to bolster their RPI if they can take that game. Seton Hall drew Connecticut, DePaul and Rutgers (a traditional rival) as their mirror opponents in conference play, a combination that they could go 4-2, but should do no worse than 3-3. 2-4 should be cause for worry if the Pirates want to improve on the 7-11 they posted last season. A home slate of Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will be tough, but the Pirates should have chances against Georgetown, St. John's and West Virginia. Georgetown and St. John's could be tie breakers. With a road slate that includes Cincinnati, Marquette, Providence, South Florida, Syracuse and Villanova, the Pirates are going to need at least three wins, especially if they log a 2-4 record versus the mirrors.
St. John's -- The Morning After
Steve Lavin and his staff put their biggest question ("The Players or the Plays?") to rest last season. No matter what happens this season, Red Storm fans will know things can and will improve as the very good (but given October news, not excellent-to-epic) freshman class matures. 2011-12 however is going to be a tough year for the Johnnies. Note the adjective was "tough", not "ugly". At 2.68 years last season Coach Lavin's squad was ranked #3 in Division I for experience. Of the 6,625 minutes played last season, St. John's returns 319 (No, that's not a typo...) of them this season. That is 4.8% of the 2010-11 minutes. Which should rank the Johnnies somewhere around #340 (out of #345) this season. 4.8% is better than the 3.7% scoring they return -- Malik Stith is a pass-first point guard. Coach Lavin has two JUCOs, center God'sgift Achiuwa, a 6-8, 230 pound Nigerian by way of Erie CC and lead guard Nurideen Lindsey, a 6-3 Philly guard bound for La Salle out of high school who did a year at Redlands CC in Oklahoma before heading back East (and to St. John's). Lindsey and Achiuwa (and Stith) is a start, but the rest of the rotation (and starting lineup!) will be filled out with freshmen. If the Johnnies' exhibition games are predictive, look for Stith and Lindsey to start in the back court, along with freshman D'Angelo Harrison, a 6-3, 202 pound guard out of Texas, 6-8 wing Maurice Harkless (a New York City native who prepped at South Kent in Connecticut) and Achiuwa to man the front court. 6-6 wing Detroit native Sir'Dominic Pointer a distinct possibility to start should the staff want a four guard look. Freshman Phil Greene, a 6-2 Chicagoan and returning junior Jamil White, a walk on last season who played five minutes will round out the back court rotation. Coach Steve Lavin was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and after undergoing surgery in late October, will pursue a course of post surgery treatment and rehabilitation before returning to the bench. Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap directs the program during Lavin's recuperation. Three late September casualties of the NCAA clearing house, Amir Garrett (a 6-6, 190 pound #3), Norvel Pelle (a 6-10 200 pound #4) and Jakarr Sampson (a 6-8, 200 pound small forward) were removed from the roster admist some confusion about their relationship with St. John's going forward. The program has eight scholarship players (plus two walk ons -- Gerard Rivers and Sam Sealy-James, a 6-8 195 pound forward) available for the exhibition games and the season. A quick look at the exhibition box scores suggests the offense will be Lindsey and whoever is hot that night. The transfer took >30% of the possessions and about 24% shots when he was on the court (with >82% of the minutes at point, that's a lot of time...) with Harrison and Harkless as the clear second and third options. The rotation of Achuiwa, Lindsey, Harkless, Harrison and Boothe took at least 65% of the minutes in both exhibitions (St. Mary's of Maryland and C.W. Post), with Pointer taking 65% of the minutes in the second game. Lindsey, tabbed as a potential NBA'er by virtually every coach who has mentored him, was inefficient with his possessions, logging sub 1.00 point per possession in each of the two outings. It won't get better as the competition improves.
The Johnnies will face Arizona and then either Texas A&M or Mississippi State in the 2K Coaches versus Cancer Classic, the first of two BCS-level tests they face in the out of conference schedule, to be followed by Big East/SEC Challengeinduced trip to Kentucky in early December. A late December loss to cross town rival Fordham proved to be a fluke last season. A similar result this season will be a harbinger. Mirrors with Cincinnati, DePaul and Georgetown could yield a record as good as 5-1 or as poor as 1-5 (where Pomeroy projects them right now). 2-4 is a more reasonable projection. The home slate (mirrors excluded) of Louisville, Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia will not yield more than two wins, while the road slate (again mirrors excluded), Connecticut, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Seton Hall and South Florida would probably have been more useful as the home slate this season. The most favorable opponents, Rutgers, Seton Hall and South Florida would be easier to take at the Garden (or the Carnesseca), but on the road the Johnnies may be able to grab one (two maybe?) wins. Six or seven conference wins might be the Red Storm's ceiling this season. With a minimum number necessary to run full practices available, the roster has to be a concern going forward.
Villanova -- Funky February, part 2
I decided to run the same efficiency numbers (offensive points per possession, defensive points per possession, difference margin -- by month -- for the two seasons since Villanova's Final Four appearance. Won/loss totals are interesting (and more dramatic than Georgetown -- see above), but the efficiency margin and decline of the defense are the eye catching numbers here...
I added the pace (possessions per 40 minute game) for the 'Cats, as the number of possessions seemed to correlate with the Pythagorean Winning Percentage. The two values actually track very closely -- as the number of possessions declines, Villanova becomes less dominent on either side of the ball. The specific reasons for this are not necessarily "in the numbers", but while fans have noticed the decline in offensive efficiency, the decline in defense tends to have been more pronounced. Player injuries or fatigue? Midseason modifications in offensive strategy (dubbed "The Burn" given the tendency to delay the offensive set until well into the shot clock)? Loss of cohesion or confidence? All have been cited at one point or another over the past two seasons. The cause may not be clear, but the effect is crystal.
Coach Wright will work with 44.1% of last season's minutes and 43.5% of the points scored. Irrespective of the late season collapse, the Class of 2011 graduated three 1,500 point scorers, the first in the program's 91 year history. On the heels of 2,200 point scorer Scottie Reynold's graduation in 2010, the three players (all juniors) who have logged at least one start over the past two seasons have enormous roles to fill. The Wildcats have the outside and inside set with Maalik Wayns (30.1 MPG, 13.8 PPG, 4.5 APG) manning the point and Mouphtaou Yarou (24.1 MPG, 8.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG) anchoring the low post. 6-6 wing Dom Cheek (19.4 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG) started two games in Corey Stokes' absence and will start at the #2 or #3 this season, depending on how big the staff wants to go. The last two starting spots will most likely go to sophomore James Bell (9.1 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG) a 6-6 wing, dubbed a "defensive specialist" by U19 coach Paul Hewitt. Bell started all of the nine games in the U19 World Championship Tournament last summer, averaging over 16 minutes per game. He will most likely take the other wing spot alongside Cheek. Red shirt freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, a (6-7, 260 lbs) physical foward will most likely start at the power forward spot. Though rusty and undersized, Pinkston has the footwork skills to cover smaller players and after some conditioning, the muscle and bounce to defend larger forwards. Four freshmen, Tyronne Johnson (6-3, 185 pounds, point guard), Darrun Hilliard (6-6, 205 pounds, off guard), Achraf Yacoubou (6-4, 210 pounds, off guard) and Markus Kennedy (6-9, 260 pounds, power forward), along with returning junior #4/#5 Maurice Sutton (10.6 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG) should, given the short bench, draw a good deal of playing time this season. Expect Sutton and Kennedy to see regular minutes in a low post rotation, while Johnson will spell Wayns, and either Hilliard and/or Yacoubou backing up Bell and Cheek. Ideally a program will bring in a consistent 3-4 players each season, but due largely to transfers (injury/discipline and an early departure in 2009), the incoming classes have varied widely, ranging from one (last season) to five (this season; four freshmen plus Pinkston). The squad this season has no seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and five freshmen.
The Wildcats will face Cincinnati, Marquette and South Florida as mirror opponents, a draw that would have been popular had it happened in either of the last two seasons...this season, not so much. A 3-3 record (sweep USF -- who ironically eliminated the Wildcats in the Big East Tournament last March -- and split with either the Bearcats or Warriors) would seem reasonable, though Ken Pomeroy projects a 4-2 outcome (sweep USF and split with Marquette & Cincinnati). A home slate that includes (minus the mirrors) Connecticut (the third consecutive President's Day meeting between the two rivals), DePual, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall and Syracuse should yield no worse than a 3-3 record. 4-2 would be very good news (and suggest the 'Cats have solved their Funky February problem). The road slate includes stops at Georgetown, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers (ahhh revenge!), St. John's and West Virginia could produce a record as ugly as 1-5. Going 3-3 would be very good news (and give the 'Cats a win ceiling of 11), but given the Wildcats' historic difficulties winning at the Peterson Center (Pittsburgh), at Louisville and in the Colusium (West Virginia), accounting for the unpredicted loss yields a 2-4 record.
Most Likely to...(and why):
To Move Up a Quartile... -- Either Georgetown or Villanova. Their game (scheduled for the Verizon Center on February 25) may well decide who moves up and who "stays down" in a match that will probably become a comparison game for the Selection Committee. Both teams face replacing program mainstays this season, and who makes progress throughout the conference season will most likely take the game.
Move Down a Quartile... -- St. John's. The Johnnies are really, really thin, relying on walk ons to assemble enough bodies to scrimmage in practice. Big Apple Buckets optimism aside, the Big East is not the Pac-12; there will not be many off nights in the conference, as every team has physical forward/centers. Even if either Pelle or Garrett qualify for the spring (I am not holding out hope on this), how effective would either be without the requisite conditioning and game experience? Injury at this level (virtually every team has taken an injury hit or two this off season) is too common, and for the Johnnies, it could turn a "tough" season into an "ugly" one.