Friday, November 25, 2011

UC Riverside Post Game: Opening Strong

The Burn Offense is Alive and Riverside, California
While it might seem far fetched that a basketball team can create a 25 point winning margin on just 58 (plus or minus 1?) possessions, that is precisely what Villanova did in their first round game with University of California Riverside of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, California. Looking at last season's kenpom ratings this would make some sense, the Wildcats obtained the highest rating among the eight schools invited to participate; UC Riverside had the lowest. Two things happened on the way to the first round...first, the balance of the field was not seeded in the anticipated 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 fashion that one might have expected, and second, the kenpom ratings changed to reflect games played this season, and Villanova fell to #3 according to the kenpom system. The field was seeded to insure an "East-West" game for the finals. The only team in Villanova's bracket not from the Mississippi or east was UC Riverside, the team most likely to lose their first round game. All of the teams in the other bracket come from west of the Mississippi River Valley, Oklahoma, clearly a "southwestern" team is the most easterly team in the bracket. Villanova dismantled UC Riverside 71-46 in the most decisive game so far in the Wildcats' the 2011-12 schedule. The final will feature an East-West match.

The Highlanders held onto the lead for over 10 minutes in the first half. The shot clock, not a hot shooting hand or control of the offensive boards was the key. The Highlanders typically took 20-30 seconds off the clock before they took a field goal attempt. The Wildcats would more often than not gather the defensive rebound and respond with a shot (often a miss) anywhere from four to twenty seconds into the shot clock. That tactic, to "shorten" the game by burning the clock, is an often employed strategy by an overmatched underdog. It makes sense too; by limiting the scoring opportunities the underdog can, in theory, keep the score close, maximizing the impact of high reward offensive tactics like the three point attempt. By the 11 minute mark however, the Highlanders, overmatched on height, had no more fouls to give, and the Wildcats' offense began to grind them down. Freshman off guard Darrun Hilliard hit a three at the 9:30 mark putting Villanova up by one 15-14, and the Wildcats were not headed again. Once on top, the 'Cats took a 17-2 run to close out the half...and the game.

The bloggers over at Nova Blog and attributed UC Riverside's 11 minute lead to hot shooting (the Highlanders) and sloppy play (the Wildcats), both of which were true. Sort of. UC Riverside did score in their first three possessions (which consumed over two minutes on the game clock), but those seven points were half of their entire point production through the first 11 minutes of the half. It took the Highlanders another nine minutes to scored their next seven points. And seven more minutes to score their next two (and last of the half) points. Villanova did go an appalling 2-9 from the field while they were down on the Highlanders, but stayed within contact by shooting 6-6 from the line. While the Highlanders committed seven fouls (putting the 'Cats in the bonus) with a single turnover over that time period, the 'Cats committed four fouls and one turnover by contrast. The University site posted their AP wire story. The official boxscore is also posted. The breakdown by halves

OpponentUC Riverside 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
Villanova broke on top in the first because, though their eFG% was poor enough to be down at the half, was better than the Highlanders...shot defense. The Wildcats took care of the ball (see turnover rate) while forcing turnovers by UC Riverside. Second half stats show improved (reflected in the score margins, which ranged as high as 30 late in the second period, ultimately settling in at 25) shot efficiency (eFG%) coupled with much better offensive rebounding rates, even as the Wildcats continued to care for the ball (see turnover rate). The half-over-half steep drop in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is most likely a reflection of the Highlanders' foul difficulties -- their bigs had to be careful, which may also account for the dramatic increase in Villanova's offensive rebounding rate (24.8 to 64.7).

Notes & Observations
1. The staff appears to have fixed on the starting five, using Maalik Wayns at the point with Darrun Hilliard and Dom Cheek rounding out the back court/wing sports, with James Bell playing the "#4" and Mouphtaou Yarou at the #5. The staff called the numbers for a total of 10 players who were alloted playing time ranging from eight minutes (freshman Ty Johnson again) up to 35 minutes (Wayns). Freshman Achraf Yacoubou drew a modestly surprising 20 minutes, due most likely to Bell's foul problems. Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston played for 17 minutes while fellow freshman Markus Kennedy drew 12 minutes.
2. Yarou and Wayns asserted themselves as hoped for. Yarou scored a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Wayns chipped in a game-high 23 points while the 'Cats had two others, Hilliard (12 points) and Bell (12 points) who also notched double digit minutes. Bell's 12 points were scored in 13 minutes of play, all that could be safely allocated given his foul problems.

3. A crucial and welcomed stat is the point distribution, highlighted in green above. Though Villanova shooters were hitting their three point attempts at a 50% clip, but the guards did not drop out to the arc and start jacking threes. Note points from two point attempts in the second half was 66%, and overall threes accounted for under 30% of the point production. Given the point margin was +20 through much of the second half the back court showed discipline and good judgement by not stepping back taking threes. They also insured that a cold streak would not let the Highlanders back into the game.

4. Wayns took about 40% of the possessions and 38% of the shots when he was on the court. This time he combined high usage with high efficiency, for the kind of production that will earn him some national attention. I have just about accepted the idea that he will be a volumn shooter, not a role I would like to see. Against programs like UC Riverside however, it works. He draws (defensive) attention, which should benefit second and third scoring options like Hilliard, Yarou and Yacoubou, both of whom took between 11% and 21% of the shots. Bell took a surprising 31% of the shots, but consider how little time he actually logged.

5. UC Riverside was paced by Daymond Cowlah, who scored 10 points on 4-7 (2-4 from threes, 2-3 from inside the arc). Team-high rebounding was shared by T.J. Burke and Elliot Berry.

6. Coach Jay Wright, as noted by, logged win #350 for his career.

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