Sunday, November 13, 2011

Random Thoughts After First Friday

As I Was Scanning the Scoreboard, Twitter, Messageboards, etc
A progessional obligation kept me away from the TV set (ie ESPN) as Division I resumed with a vengance Friday night. Though the season "started" with a dribble of games -- mostly campus site games for early season invitational tournaments -- Friday brought a whopping 131 games. I have not checked to see if all those games involved two D I opponents, we can guess that nearly 246 of Division I's 348 teams (69.5%) saw action. After streaming the Villanova-Monmouth game (a 106-70 rout) I started a wider search for comments/scores. Sifting through the scoring summaries and catching a few tweets, I found a handful of games that caught my eye...

What a Difference a Year Makes (part 1)
Big 5 fans followed the progress of Saint Joseph's freshmen class from a very uneven start in 2010-11 to a brief florish close the season. Western Kentucky, a Sun Belt Conference power over the years, thumped the Hawks 98-70 to open last season at the Hagan. This season the Hawks opened in Western Kentucky and returned the favor as they beat the Hilltoppers by 11, 72-61 in Bowling Green, KY. Guards Carl Jones and Langston Galloway did their thing (16 and 19 points respectively with three assists and five steals), but not seeing sophomore forward Ron Roberts in the starting lineup was a bit surprising (Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic got the nod and logged eight minutes before fouling out). Roberts did get a 31 minute run, recording his first double-double of the season -- 10 points and 11 rebounds. The really good news was C. J. Aiken's 35 minutes. The 6-9 center blocked five shots, scored 12 points, and drew only three fouls. Coach Martelli's charges will see Georgia Tech Thursday night in the Charleston Classic. This will be a reunion of sorts, as the Yellow Jackets are now coached by former Dayton head coach Brian Gregory. It should be a great opportunity for the Hawks to draw some national attention.

Oops, Wrong First Impressions...
An extremely enthusiastic tweet from Chris DiSano of College ChalkTalk about Rhode Island's freshman forward Jon Holton (and a follow up about senior guard Jamal Wilson's awesome 38 point outburst) sent me on a search for the Rhodi-George Mason boxscore. The game went into overtime with the Runnin' Rams dropping a two point (90-92) decision on the road. My first check on possessions had the game (overtime included) at around 92 possessions. I was wrong (I'll blame the unofficial box score for that...yeah, that's the ticket, it was the unofficial box score...), the calculation from the official box score puts the possessions at 87...which means my first thought -- Rhode Island needs more offense -- was off base. The Runnin' Rams gave up 1.06 points per possession to the Patriots, and handed the CAA another win over the A-10 (a problem come Selection Sunday). Granted Coach Baron is going to have a reliable second and third option, Wilson is not going to shoot 13-22 (1-2, 12-20) to go with an 11-12 from the line every night, but he has options now in his front court with senior Orion Outerbridge and sophomore Nikola Malesevic if the two forwards can exercise better judgement on their three point attempts. Combined they hit 3-14 from beyond the arc (nine points on 14 attempts), while shooting a combined 4-8 inside (eight points on eight attempts). Wilson by the way, posted a 61.4% eFG with a 1.39 PPWS, both will be noted elsewhere when I file my first report. Holton will need to work on his shot (2-11 from the field, 7-10 from the line), but he will see minutes because he is a rebounding monster -- he snagged a stunning 34.7% of the available defensive rebounds when he was on the court. URI might be able to get a bit more offense when Auburn transfer Andre Malone and Virginia transfer Billy Baron become eligible late next month. For now Coach Baron may have to rely on freshman Mike Powell to handle the point guard duties. For Powell GMU was something of a baptism of fire as he shot an underwhelming 3-11 from the field while handing out six dimes (nearly negated by five turnovers).

Wow, What a Difference...(part 2)
Saint Louis fans suffered through a multitude of basketball-related problems in 2010-11. I wondered going into the season how the Billikens would react to the log jam in the back court and whether they would find an offense to go their their lock-down defense (the Billikens were ranked #47 by Ken Pomeroy last season). Majerus is not reputed to be an especially "user friendly" coach, so losing one or more of the freshmen back court players before the season started would not have been too surprising (sophomore Christian Salecich did transfer out during the summer). The Bills struggled against the Carleton Ravens on their Canadian Tour this summer, losing red shirt junior guard Kwamain Mitchell at the end of their fourth exhibition, not the best sign going into the fall semester. Friday night they demolished Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference, 71-37 (yup, the defense is back) before 6,400+ fans at Chaifetz. My numbers (unadjusted) show a 61 possession game (typical of Majerus), which means the defense is in mid-season form -- they held Tennessee State to a measly 0.60 points per possession), but the offense is still a work in progress. Mitchell started and coupled a horrific 3-11 outing with 40% shot rate in his 27 minute (66.7% of the playing time) run. Mitchell will get better (or take a seat on the bench, Majerus is not the most patient coach) to be sure. Conklin, along with sophomores Mike McCall and Jordair Jett compensated with very efficient shooting nights (combined they went 10-15 from the field). Limiting a team to 37 points is impressive. Saint Louis is headed off to the 76 Classic later this month, with a matchup versus Villanova a distinct possibility.

Speaking of Defensive Showcases
Buzz Williams' Marquette squad shut down Mount St. Mary's Friday night too, handing the Mountaineers a 54 point loss (91-37) to open the season. The offensive/defensive display was impressive, as the two played for about 71 possessions, thereby scoring about 1.28 points per possession, while limiting Mount St. Mary's to 0.58 PPP. The starting five Jae Crowder, Chris Otule, Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan (note the three guards?) did a nice job of distributing shots and possessions, which reminded me a bit of the Syracuse team from 2010. Blue in particular struggled late last season, but had an efficient outing (a 62.5% eFG on 5-8 shooting from the field, which computes to a 1.25 PPWS). Cadougan struggled a bit with his shot (4-9, 44.4% eFG), but made his double-double the hard way, 10 points to go with 10 dimes in 24 minutes of play.

Amidst the Blowouts
The Big East finished off their eight opponents -- home games all -- Friday night by an average of 25.3 points. Two exceptions to the exhibition of BCS muscle-flexing came in Morgantown and Piscataway. True West Virginia led from the opening tip, but Coach Bob Huggins' squad had to withstand a furious closing rush by the Golden Eagles to perserve a 78-71 win. The Scarlet Knights, like West Virginia, broke on top early, but needed free throws at the end to hold off Big Green. Coach Mike Rice's squad struggled on offense, converting possessions-to-points at a 0.98 rate (about 62.7 possessions). The shot conversion (50.0% eFG%) was fine, but turnovers (a 25%+ rate) undermined the effort. A 40.9% assist rate was not especially impressive either. If this is a representative game (at least until the freshmen catch up), expect the front court, powered by junior Dane Miller and sophomore Gilvyda Baruta to provide the points. Among the freshmen two guards, Jerome Seagears and Eli Carter posted nine points apiece on relatively efficient shooting. West Virginia played a predictably high 73 possession game with seniors Kevin Jones and Darryl Bryant providing a good deal of the offense. Surprisingly the staff started freshman Jabari Hinds at the point, and the 5-11 spark plug did not disappoint, scoring nine points to go with five assists. Freshman forward Miles Keaton also got the starting nod (a message to Kevin Noreen?) and snagged two rebounds and five steals in 21 minutes of play.

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