Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quick Big East Projection: 3rd Quartile

100% of this quartile will go to the Big East Tournament. Maybe ½ will have (post season) life after the BET...most likely in the NIT.

2006-07 Season
OverallBig EastBET
Notre Dame248.750115.6884NCAA
Seton Hall1316.488412.250NANA
West Virginia279.75097.5637NIT

Thumbnail (in 300 words or less)

  • Cincinnati -- First year head coach Mick Cronin walked into the Bearcat locker room and found senior starter Cedric McGowan and subs Ronald Allen (senior) & Connor Barwin (soph) were the only scholarship players left from the 2005-06 season roster that closed out the Huggins Era. Even rising sophomore (sub) Dominick Tilford, who stayed most of the summer, ultimately followed fellow freshman Devan Downing and transferred out just before the season began. Cronin hit the recruiting trail and put together a roster that included JUCOs (Tim Crowell, John Williamson, Marcus Sikes, Jamual Warren, Marvin Gentry and Brandon Miller) and a freshman (All Big East Rookie Team member Deonta Vaughn). The team he put on the court featured a mobile frontcourt, a very promising freshman point guard, but lacked a reliable set of offensive options (shooters) and confidence when playing away from Fifth Third. This year's edition will feature another 6 or so new faces (Kenny Belton, Rashad Bishop, Larry Davis, Anthony McClain, Alvin Mitchell and Darnell Wilks) who will mix with the five holdovers from last year's squad (JUCO Tim Crowell moved on, McGowan & Allen graduated, Barwin moved back to football).

    Cincinnati ranked in the upper ½ of the conference in both offensive and defensive turnover rates. The Bearcats had two players, center John Williamson (who will play the #4 in 2007-08) and wing guard Marvin Gentry ranked in the Top 500 for best Turnover Rate, and a third, pg Deonta Vaughn who, at 17.1, just missed the cutoff (16.9).

    The Bearcats were, relative to D1 as a whole, pretty good at both offensive and defensive rebounding. The Big East as a conference happens to be very good at offensive rebounding. Which makes Cincinnati's defensive rebounding proficiency all the more impressive. Those undersized but mobile wings Mick Cronin put on the court proved very aggressive to the ball.

    Cincinnati ranked near the bottom among Big East in both eFG% categories -- their offensive eFG% was 45.9/#292 while their defensive eFG% was only marginally better at 52.0/#252. When the Bearcats held their opponent to an eFG of 48.0 or less they were 8-3. Unfortunately there were 19 other games (in which they put together a record of 3-16) in which they allowed opponents an eFG% > 48.0.

    Mick Cronin's crew was 1 - 11 away from Fifth Third. They were 0 - 8 on the road in the Big East. 20% of the Bearcats' games were decided by 5 points or less. Cincinnati's winning percentage in those games was 0.167 (1 - 5). Four of those close games were against Big East opponents and the Bearcats were 1 - 3 versus those teams. Their home/away record for those 4 Big East games was also 1 - 3. Cincinnati will have to learn how to win away from home and close out the close games if they want to extend their season to Madison Square Garden. A road record of 1 - 11, a close game record (games decided by 5 or fewer points) of 1 - 5 and a consistency rating of 21.4 (ranked, at #201, in the bottom 40% of D1 basketball) suggest that Cincinnati suffers defensive and offensive breakdowns at critical times.

    Look for a bigger front line this season, hopefully one that can score consistently. Senior 6-10 Adam Hrycaniuk, finally eligible, will split time at the #5 with 6-11 freshman Anthony McClain to provide the kind of height the Bearcats lacked with Williamson, Sikes and Cedric McGowan. John Williamson will be able to turn around and face the basket while playing the #3, his natural position (he is only 6-6...). With transfer Mike Williams, a former MDAA from Texas out for the season, Coach Cronin will have to look to 2 or 3 freshmen (Kenny Belton, Rashad Bishop or Alvin Mitchell) to mix and match with Williamson and senior Marcus Sikes to fill out the front court rotation.

    Because the Bearcats should have consistent scorers up front next season, point guard Deonta Vaughn should learn how to bring those players into the offense. At the end of last season Vaughn seemed to try to do too much offensively. Instead of distributing the ball he took the shot himself. That should change this season, helping his shooting average and the overall offensive efficiency of the team.

  • Notre Dame -- The front court returns virtually intact (Luke Harangody's recent injury notwithstanding), but the staff has to replace Gary Carter and Colin Falls, both of whom became efficient scorers over the past 2+ years. The Irish put together a nice run through the Big East last season, compiling an 11-5 record on their way to a 24-8 record and a #6 seed in the NCAA tournament. A nearly complete turnaround from the 2005-06 season in which they seemed incapable of doing anything right. The biggest difference in the turnaround was defense. Notre Dame games for the past few seasons resembled more a horse race than a basketball game. Especially in the 2005-06 season, the last team to score usually won the game (the Irish had a 3-10 record in games decided by 5 points or less). The changeover from a rotation composed principally of an achey Torin Francis, a perimeter-oriented Luke Zeller, an under utilized Rob Kurz and Rick Cornett (2005-06) to Rob Kurz, freshman Luke Harangody and sophomores Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller brought Notre Dame's 2006 defensive efficiency down from 98.3/#120 to 93.0/#49. True the Irish recorded modest improvements in eFG% (48.0/#95 to 47.2/#59) and rebounding (68.5/#134 in 2006, 68.8/#70 in 2007). But the big improvement was turnovers -- Notre Dame developed a more hawkish attitude that accounted for a nearly 5.5% improvement year-over-year in forcing defensive turnovers. In 2006 NDU logged a 15.5%/#334 TORate; in 2007 their TORate was 20.9/#181. This season opens with Harangody nursing torn thumb ligaments, and sophomore Ryan Ayers looking for more PT.

    The 2006-07 Big East regular season began with Notre Dame in crisis. The expulsion of sophomore pg Kyle McAlarney threatened to kill the momentum building from a promising OOC run. The Irish were 12-1, coming off of a 50 point win over Rider (NEC) when McAlarney was suspended pending review. Freshman Tory Jackson stepped in to finish the season as, after 3+ weeks of limbo, the Notre Dame administration decided to expell Kyle, but allow him to apply for re-instatement at the end of the spring semester. After a rocky start Jackson grew to fill the role well. Beginning his run as a spot reliever (Min% 38.6, ORtg 91.7) regressed slightly as his minutes increased rapidly. By the end of the season (NDU went out in a 1st upset at the hands of Winthrop) Jackson's minutes (and ORtg) had risen to 69.6 (and 100.0). McAlarney is back, and Jackson has ½ season's worth of experience to boot. The question is who will take the point and who will move to the off guard.

    One of the bigger questions pending is who will shoot the 3 -- an essential component in Mike Brey's offensive system. Between them, Carter and Falls took 63.0% of the 3FGAs last season (213 & 250 respectively). The next most likely player to launch a 3 was Kyle McAlarney, who took 56 before his expulsion. Falls preferred 3s (one of the wing players in Brey's system always does), taking 79.6% of his FGAs from behind the line. The only player who comes close to matching that shooting profile is Ryan Ayers, who took 71.6% of his FGAs from beyond the 19-9 line. But Ayers logged only 28.0% of the minutes at his position last season, throwing up 67 total FGAs. Falls did not play a Steve Novak-type role in the Irish offensive system. He was content to take about 1 in 5 FGAs when he was on the floor (about average for a 5 man team on the floor), up from about 1 in 6 FGAs the year before. Someone however will have to fill that role. If Ayers is the most likely candidate, others include Luke Zeller, a 6-11 #4/#5 who plays like a European and sophomore Jon Peoples. No doubt freshmen Ty Proffitt, a 6-4 combo guard out of Kentucky will also see time out on the wing.

  • Seton Hall -- The Pirates had the lowest turnover rate in the conference. The Pirates had multiple point guards (Harvey, Gause) and shooting/combo guards (Davis, Nutter, Marshall) to handle the ball. No guard listed had a TORate greater than 19.5 (Harvey) and three -- Nutter, Gause and Davis -- were among Ken Pomeroy's Top 500 for turnover rate. The Hall also forced turnovers pretty well. They were ranked 3rdin the conference for defensive TORate (23.7). Forward "Everyman" Brian Laing (2.6, #475) joined with three guards, point guard Eugene Harvey (2.7, #378), Larry Davis (3.2, #195) and Master Thief Paul Gause (6.9, #1) to form a defense that deprived their opponents of a field goal attempt nearly 1 in 4 times. That ability to limit their opponents' scoring opportunities helped to mask some of their own problems on offense.

    Of the six players who logged more than 50.0% of the playing time at their respective position, only one, Stan Gaines, was taller than 6-5 -- and Gaines was all of 6-7. That smaller lineup (Brian Laing, Eugene Harvey, Jamar Nutter, Gaines, Paul Gause and Larry Davis) translated into a smaller presence on the floor. Which eventually translated into few(er) rebounds. The Pirates were ranked #15 in both offensive rebounding rate (OR% -- 31.8) and defensive rebounding rate (opponents' offensive rebounding rate -- 36.4). That lack of height created other problems, especially on defense. Opponents were able to log an eFG of 51.2 versus the Pirates, good for a #15 rank. The smaller lineup created mismatches, especially in the paint. 70.6% of SHU's opponents' field goal attempts were taken inside the 3 point line which they converted at a disconcerting 0.524 rate. The Big East conversion rate was an even worse 0.543 rate. The Pirates did defend the perimeter well (0.329, an eFG rate of 0.494, below 50%). The Pirates ranked #15 in FTRate as well, no doubt due to aggressive (over compensation?) play, and maybe in the last 5 - 6 minutes of the second half, fatigue. Difficulties matching up with taller players eventually translated into more trips to the free throw line. The Pirates committed 88 more fouls than their opponents (64 more in the 16 Big East games alone), which translated into 116 more free throw attempts. The terrific defensive turnover rate maintained by the Hall was negated by the other 3 defensive factors (eFG, FTRate and Rebounding). The Pirate's Defensive Rating, 109.3 (adjusted), translated into a disappointing #11 rank in the Big East.Small & mobile may not be better -- when opponents shot an eFG of 51.0 or better the Pirates were 3-12. They were 1-9 versus Big East opponents. When limited to an offensive rebounding rate of 35.0 or less the Pirates were 4-15. The Big East is a very good rebounding conference, so it is no surprise that their Big East record was 1-12. When both margins were met, the Pirates were 1-11 (0-10 in the Big East).

    When a team is as unlucky as the Pirates were in 2006-07, the chances are good it will turnaround in the next season. The Pirates registered a -.108 last season, that translates into about 3 more losses than anticipated. Returning most of last year's squad, while adding help in the front court, should work to "improve" their luck. 6-9 center John Garcia should be healthier this season. Coach Gonzalez has recruited 6-9 Mike Davis, 6-9 Brandon Walters and 6-11 Augustine Okosun to take up space in the paint and allow Brian Laing to move to the wing, a more natural position for him (he is after all, only 6-5). Some combination of those 4 plus 6-6 "all-purpose" forward Michael Glover should see time on the court.

  • West Virginia -- Coach Beilein's particular version of the 4 out 1 in motion offense employs passes, cuts and screens to free up a shooter. After a rocky first season the Mountaineer players embraced the system and have managed to put together a very good 4 year run of post season play. Coach Beilein had the opportunity to fully integrate his variation of 4-out 1-in motion into the West Virginia program before he jumped to Michigan. The Mountaineer's playing style was a classic match to the Perimeter Oriented Team (as described by John Gasaway of The Big Ten Wonk Blog:
    1. Take a high rate of 3s-to-2s, preferably in the range of 40% of the FGAs. WVU took 49% of their FGAs as 3s.
    2. Don't turn the ball over much. The Mountaineers didn't. Their 17.0 TO% was 10th in D1 and 2nd in the Big East.
    3. Don't get rebounds (especially offensive rebounds...). Their OR% was a paltry 30.7, #270 across D1, which ranked West Virginia #16 in the Big East. Offensive rebounds are especially challenging given the tendency to rain 3s. And rebounding is another characteristic of Big East basketball (most of the members rebound very well at both ends of the floor).
    4. Don't foul. Hanging on the 3 point line and playing defense in a 1-3-1 zone minimizes contact...and opportunities for fouls. On offense the 'Eers had a 20.1 FTRate which earned them a #306 rank in D1 ball (very unusual considering the Big East is seen as a physical conference...) and #2 in the conference. On the defensive side of the ball WVU was nearly equally contact-shy. They fouled at a 28.8 rate, good for a #33 rank across D1, and #1 in the conference.
    Largely a by product of Beilein's perimeter oriented offensive system and 1-3-1 zone defense, Mountaineer players had few opportunities to take an opponent man-to-man. Their 28.8 FTRate was ranked #33 in D1 and 1st in the Big East, a conference with a long history of physical play. Teams like Connecticut, which historically anticipate a relatively consistent percentage of their points will be collected at the charity strip, had to be frusturated by West Virginia's style of offense and defense.

    They were an excellent shooting team, but with a consistency rating of 24.2, the Mountaineers were ranked #295 overall in D1. The three point shot, an integral component in West Virginia's offense, is notoriously difficult to sustain game-to-game, especially with a team that had as little playing time going into the season. That they sustained the level of offense through the season is a tribute to Beilein's system and techniques for teaching it.

    By all accounts 2006-07 was supposed to be a down year for West Virginia. But the Mountaineers put on a very good run through much of the Big East season. They faltered after compiling a 7-3 record, and staggered home in a 2-4 stretch which. After a modest 2 round run in the Big East Tournament they were invited to the NIT. The NIT Championship would have been a very good bulding block for this freshman & sophomore-dominated team. But John Beilein left for Michigan at the end of the season.

    Expect something very different this year. Bob Huggins may promise fans he will keep elements of John Beilein's system to ease the player's transition to his system, but even though both approaches are described as Motion-type Offenses, they are very different systems. It is not likely WVU fans will recognize those Beilein elements.

The coaches at Seton Hall and Cincinnati are a year into their respective tenures. While Cronin (Cincinnati) had the bigger reconstruction job, the task facing Gonzalez (Seton Hall) is nearly every bit as challenging. West Virginia's Bob Huggins will work through the pitfalls both Gonzo and Cronin faces last season, albeit with a much higher favorable rating from the Moutaineer fan-base, and by virtue of a 19+ year resume at Cincinnati & K State which includes numerous post season appearances & player(s) to the NBA, a good deal more credibility with the players and administration. He still starts the season 0-0 however. Cincinnati returns 74.9% of the minutes from last year's team. That includes 5 of 8 players who started at least one game (graduating senior Ron Allen started a single game). Notre Dame returns 67.8% of last year's minutes, including 6 of 8 players who started at least one game. The Pirates return 76.9% of their minutes with 6 of 10 players who started at least one game (Kashif Pratt & Mani Messy each started a single game). West Virginia brings back 71.0% of their minutes from 2006-07 and 3 of 5 starters.
Most Likely to...(and why):

  • Move Up a Quartile...
    • West Virginia -- Game pace (raw) for Kansas State and Cincinnati teams when Huggins was coaching came in at around 67.7 (both higher than the D1 average), well above the pace typically set by John Beilien's teams (between 61 - 63). The 2006-07 WVU team did play 16 games at a pace higher than last year 63.1, and finished with a record of 14-2 0.875, well above the winning percentage (0.688 on an 11-5 record) they notched when playing within their 5% comfort zone. Beilein's last two recruiting classes, which included players like Wellington Smith, Joe Mazzulla, Da'Sean Butler, Alex Ruoff and Joe Alexander, were the most athletic classes he brought to Morgantown (maybe he knew something...). They ought to be able to handle the faster game preferred and taught by Huggins. Whether they can handle the more physcial play offered by Huggins' style remains to be seen. The first year is usually a bumpy one for a new coach, but Huggins ought to handle it better than the other first year coaches.
  • Move Down a Quartile...
    • Seton Hall -- John Garcia, Mike Davis, Alex Okonsun, Michael Glover and Brandon Walters make up a thin front court with a lot of questions. The rotation might work out, or it may prove to be only just a bit more durable and skilled than the Belmeier, Gaines, Messy, Pratt rotation from last year. I don't expect to see Laing regularly play the #4 again -- that would signal a real health (or other) problem in the front court. The NCAA has decided to make bench behavior a point of emphasis this season. Bobby Gonzalez, whistled for a conference-high 9 technicals last season, may face a huge challenge as he controls his behavior (or whatever he does that drives refs crazy...). Hopefully "T's" will not cost the Priates any games.

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