Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Post Game: Notre Dame -- Ground Hog Day

If the Nova blogshere was a bit more sedate about Saturday's loss to Notre Dame, the fans (and message boards) were not. Criticism of the staff this season has been occasional and muted for the most part. But features of the team's play, to date topics of discussion (occasionally heated to be sure) exploded with a vengence over the weekend and into the early part of the week. During his Tuesday evening radio broadcast from a local eatery, Coach Jay Wright joked that his entire staff had come out as protection. The consecutive losses have clearly put a strain on many inside and outside the program. Post game entries/analysis, such as "'Nova Extends Slide..." from the Let's Go Nova Blog and "Once Again We Lose" from the I Bleed Blue and White Blog (both well written), articulate fan concerns even as they convey the dismay felt by many in the 'Nova Nation. The half-by-half breakdown shows a few recurring trends:

OpponentNotre Dame 
Offense Defense

The pace picked up between the first and second halves. Notre Dame tends to play at a higher pace (as does Villanova), so this was not necessarily a good sign. A few of the additional possessions were picked up (no doubt) by late game fouling to stop the clock and force a change of possession. The half time adjustments did result in rather dramatic gains in Villanova's Offensive Rating (Rating) and field goal efficiency (eFG). The decline (albeit modest) in Notre Dame's eFG% suggest the 'Cats were doing a better job in defending the shot. So did the 'Cats really play better defense? The answer would seem to be a qualified yes. Defensive rebounding improved (Opponent's OReb% declined half-over-half...). But VU's overall Defensive Rating (Rating) was worse in the second half than the first, possibly because the Irish took a little better care of the ball (decline in the turnover rate -- TORate) and because (like Rutgers during the week...) Villanova put Notre Dame on the line. While not as severe as Rutgers, Notre Dame still took almost as many free throws (26) as field goal attempts (27). Made free throws made up 30% of Notre Dame's final score, making this game the second highest in the Big East season for free throws as a percentage of the final score (Cincinnati was the highest at 38%). The poor first half on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by the low eFG% and the high TORate on offense in combination with the high eFG% and OR% on defense indicate Villanova dug another hole early in the game that half time adjustments could not overcome. Indeed despite scoring 51 points in the second half Villanova could not take back any of the 10 point lead they handed NDU in the first half.

Odds and ends...
1. Antonio Pena has average 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds over his last four games (all starts). This includes the horrific shutout at Rutgers. Getting a bit less than 20% of the possessions (about the same for shots), he has scored at about 59.3% rate (eFG%) with a PPWS of 1.26. He has taken about 40% of the available minutes at his front court position.
2. Dwayne Anderson's average playing time in the Big East season has nearly doubled (14.9 mpg) over his OOC playing time (7.8 mpg). While his average scoring has improved modestly (3.6 over 3.0), his rebounding has doubled (3.9 over 1.6).
3. Andy Ott, a redshirt freshman frontcourt player is transferring according to an announcement published on Villanova's official athletics website. The announcement was posted just before the Notre Dame game Saturday. Best of luck to Andy at his next stop.
4. Casiem Drummond has been unofficially cleared to participate in team practices. He has been sidelined for about a month with a stress fracture. The return to practice does not signify Drum is ready to play again, but rather that the staff would like to see if he can practice without pain. No final decision on whether he will redshirt this season. After sitting for 3-4 weeks Cas appeared briefly in the second DePaul game, but reported pain and was pulled quickly.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 11

Villanova moved up a bit last week, but on the heels of a terrible week of play, the Wildcats will most likely be out of the Top 25 when both polls are released later today. All I can say at this point is "Thanks for your support Vinny and maybe the 'Cats will get back there later next month." It was a good run, but there is more work for this squad to do...

My Big East Blogger Poll for this week:

1 - Georgetown
2 - Notre Dame
3 - West Virginia
4 - Pittsburgh
5 - Connecticut
6 - Louisville
7 - Marquette
8 - Villanova
9 - Seton Hall
10 - DePaul
11 - Cincinnati
12 - Providence
13 - Syracuse
14 - Rutgers
15 - South Florida
16 - St. John's

Player of the Week: Brian Laing, Seton Hall

Rookie of the Week: Mike Coburn, Rutgers

Who's Up...Who's Down...
Georgetown survived another week atop the Big East. After an overtime home win over Syracuse on Monday the Hoyas traveled to Morgantown and beat the Mountaineers. That road win, by a single point, means the only (Big East) blemish on the Hoya's record is the 9 point loss at the hands of the Panthers. Pittsburgh on the other hand dropped a 13 point decision (at home no less) to the suddenly surging Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. Villanova, suffering through a terrible week of basketball, joins Marquette, Providence along with Pittsburgh in a downward move on my ballot. Given their two wins this week, I think it is unwarrented to list Rutgers last in the Big East. That dubious honor goes, this week anyway, to St. John's, who lost 2 games last week, which brings their conference record to 1-6. I have also moved South Florida, who is also riding a losing streak, down one spot. The Bulls are the new #15 on my ballot. Those teams moving up: Notre Dame, Connectcut (who went into Cincinnati and won, something neither Pittsburgh nor Villanova could do, and then capped the week with a win over #8 Indiana), Louisville and Seton Hall.

This week's OWs...
Mike Coburn of Rutgers got my vote for the ROW candidate given his 40 point week. Mike hung 23 points on Villanova in a very efficient 8-13 shooting night (PPWS of 1.31), followed with a 17 point run on 5-9 shooting (PPWS of 1.43) at Pittsburgh. Mike also had 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 1 blocked shot and 2 steals.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Post Game: Rutgers -- Dancing with the Devil

As the result indicates, there is a good deal more work for this Wildcat team to do before the end of the Big East season. The 2006 team which went on to earn a #1 seed traveled to Piscataway and escaped with an overtime win over the Scarlet Knights. This year's edition was not as fortunate as Rutgers, a team that had failed to earn a victory in six previous Big East outings, hung a 12 point loss on the squad. The news was not taken well in the Nova Nation nor the Nova Blogshere, as postings like "Meltdown" from the Let's Go Nova Blog and "Disgusted" from the I Bleed Blue and White Blog capture the reaction. So what happened?

Offense Defense

Evidence of the "usual" half time adjustments are there:
1. Rutgers' ORtg% & eFG% declined. And similar to previous opponents, the decline was rather dramatic.
2. Villanova's steal rate increased over the half. More evidence of defensive pressure.
But clearly Rutgers had a half time adjustment or two to install as well:
1. Villanova's own ORtg% & eFG% declined (also rather dramatically...) over the half.
2. Note the significant half-over-half increase in pace. It is an uncommon development that in the past (the Drexel game in 2006-07 comes to mind) has signals the opponent's half-time adjustments gave the 'Cats some significant problems of their own.
3. Rutgers' OR% (offensive rebound rate)increased. With defensive adjustments this should have dropped.

Also note the significant increase in FTA/FGA. Rutgers (like Villanova did at Syracuse the previous weekend) lived at the line in the second half. Are the two related? It turns out that Coach Hill played both N'Diaye and Joynes for a critical stretch during the second half. These two are the Scarlet Knights' best rebounders and frankly I never thought Hill would play both (see my preview...) simultaneously. An interesting development that appears to have also resulted in shutting down Villanova's offensive rebounding (note the second half decline). If the Wildcats did not review their outings against Cincinnati and DePaul, two teams with larger and more active front court players, maybe Coach Hill did.

Pomeroy ranks the Wildcats #329 out of 341 in youth. I think the recent string of Big East road games confirms this group has a good deal of maturing to do over the next month. The tendency to "start slowly" and put themselves into double digit disadvantages in the first half has resulted in losses 3 of 4 times. Relying on the halftime adjustment to make the game competitive is not the long term solution.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Preview -- Rutgers Scarlet Knights

New Jersey has been very very good to Villanova basketball. The state has presented 3 of their last 7 Player of the Year Honorees to The Wildcats. That is more than either Seton Hall and Rutgers combined have attracted (though Rutgers may well correct that next year should St. Anthony's Mike Rosario earn the honor this year). The giving has not been all to Villanova however, as Nova has given Rutgers their current AD, Robert Mulcahey (a Villanova graduate) and their head coach, Fred Hill, a former Associate Head Coach for Jay Wright. So, when Villanova meets Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey at the RAC on Wednesday night, this will be a homecoming of sorts for Rutgers Athletic Administration and for Villanova's latest NJ POY Corey Fisher, wing Corey Stokes and reserve center Frank Tschuisi. It should be a celebration for someone...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Scarlet Knights share several opponents this year:


Neither team has traveled well in the Big East regular season so far, though Villanova's 10 point win over Syracuse last weekend is progress. Rutgers has not done particularly well at home or on the road, having dropped all 6 of their Big East games to date. Rutgers' best win this season is their 11 point home victory over Lafayette (Patriot, 12-6, RPI #135) back on December 5th. The worst of their "bad losses" has to include their 4 point home loss to Rider (MAAC, 13-6, RPI #140) on December 29th, their 23 point road loss to South Florida (Big East, 10-9, RPI #104) to open their Big East season on January 2nd, their 26 point road loss to Providence (Big East, 12-5, RPI #51) on January 9th and their 15 point home loss to Louisville (Big East, 13-5, RPI #43) on January 13th...

Lineups, Rotations...
...With the advent of the Big East season Coach Hill has settled into a 9 man rotation (with exceptions), giving double digit minutes very consistently to 8 (one time 7...) players. Expect to see freshman Mike Coburn (6-0, 195) at the point, with junior Anthony Farmer (6-1, 190) at the #2. Courtney Nelson (6-1, 180), a junior transfer from Richmond who played last season provides depth behind Coburn, Chandler and Farmer. Wings will include probable starter Jaron Griffin (jr, 6-7, 210) with freshman Earl Pettis (6-5, 225) providing Griffin with some relief. Junior pf/bf JR Inman (6-9, 220) will team with sophomore center Hamady N'Diaye (6-11, 235) to man the front court positions. Redshirt senior Byron Joynes (6-9, 265) will provide minutes behind N'Diaye and Inman. Freshman Corey Chandler (6-2, 190), Rutgers biggest get on the recruiting trail last season and another victim of stress fractures in his foot, is working his way back into playing shape and will most likely see double digit minutes at one (or both) of the back court positions. Freshman Justin Sofman (6-4, 210) also an early season casualty to injury and reputed good outside shooter, may see time on the wing.

Coach Wright is still working through his line up possibilities. The stress fracture to Casiem Drummond has dictated a bit more shuffling in the front court than he may have originally anticipated. Through the end of the OOC and the beginning of the Big East season Coach Wright used Reynolds, Fisher, Redding, Clark and Cunningham as his starting five. For the past two games he has gone with Reynolds, one of Fisher or Grant, Shane Clark, Antonio Pena and Cunningham. Scottie Reynolds will start, alongside one of Corey Fisher, Malcolm Grant. I suspect it will be Fisher. This is Villanova's only New Jersey appearance this season, where Fisher was named HS Player of the Year his senior season at St. Patrick's in Elizabeth. And Malcolm Grant started against Syracuse. Reggie Redding will, if past games are an accurate indication, see at least 20 minutes in the back court/wing. Given that Villanova has won those last two games, I have to believe Coach Wright will stay with the front court of Clark, Pena and Cunningham. Who gets N'Diaye is anyone's guess; but I am guessing it will go to Pena, who was assigned DePaul's Wes Green and Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku this past week. Expect to see Dwayne Anderson for at least 10 minutes, again a post Drummond line up development, and also freshman (and St. Benedict's of Newark graduate) Corey Stokes. The time allocations for the front court players will most likely be dictated by circumstances -- who is in foul trouble, who is defending well and who is hot offensively.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
...Within the conference, Rutgers is ranked #16 (last) using possession-based stats and Dean Oliver's 4 factors. Villanova's defense is ranked #10. When the Scarlets have the ball, the (statistical) matchups will look like this:

RU's Off44.231821.918332.719523.4213
VU's Def52.126025.23231.49543.6298

This might be the third or fourth straight poor field goal shooting Big East team Villanova has faced so far. Whether Coach Hill will try to exploit Nova's perimeter defense may be one of those factors that turns the game. Earlier in the season the "Flying Wildcat" perimeter defense made George Mason and NCSU's perimeter offense look awfully good. Like Syracuse, Rutgers in turn has largely abandoned their long range shooting; they take fewer than 3 in 10 FGAs from beyond the arc and hit at an appalling 29.4% rate. If that shot is coming, it will most likely be launched by Jaron Griffin, JR Inman or Corey Chandler (in that order). In fact if any shot is coming it will most likely come from one of those three. Inman, Griffin and Chandler form a triad that is responsible for nearly 75% of Rutgers' possessions and over 80% of their shots (when all three play simultaneously). According to Ken Pomeroy's Rutgers Scouting Report Page, none of those three has an offensive rating (ORtg%) above 98, a very bad sign given they are Coach Hill's designated "main options" on offense. The most efficient player on offense surprisingly enough, is Anthony Farmer, a converted point guard who spent his first two years as a Knight distributing the ball to Quincy Douby, Marquis Webb, Jaron Griffin and JR Inman. Chandler moved Farmer to the #2 early this season, and when Chandler was injured Hill brought Mike Coburn in to take the ball handling and leave Farmer in the off guard slot to take shots. Farmer is drawing about "regular starter" type touches and shots. Rebounding will be a good match up area for the two squads. N'Diaye and Joynes have been very good at getting RU's misses. Unfortunately Hill can only play one of them at a time. Dante Cunningham has "Top 500" ranking as a defensive rebounder. Anderson and Pena have those level numbers as well, but are not ranked for lack of PT. An area of strength for Villanova is turnovers. Rutgers by contrast is not especially turnover prone, though they have had their moments (against Louisville and later DePaul for example, when the Scarlet Knights lost about 25% of their possessions). Villanova is ranked very low (#298) when it comes to allowing the other team get to the line. The principal offenders are Cunningham, Drummond (when he is healthy), Pena and Clark (largely due to guarding the other team's #4?), but Rutgers does not appear to be in a position to exploit this vulnerability.

The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Scarlet Knights' defense:

VU's Off51.212919.04238.52929.541
RU's Def47.58319.627634.020526.725

When Villanova has the ball things could get very interesting, because this is Rutger's stronger area (as offense is with Villanova -- "Flying Wildcats" on this side of the ball is a good thing...). Rutgers defends the shot reasonably well. This may be, along with care not to foul, be the strongest area of their game, on either side of the ball. As the numbers suggest, Villanova has been able to compensate for poor FGA shooting by not turning the ball over (making the most of their opportunities) and rebounding misses. If the 'Cats miss however only N'Diaye, Joynes and Inman get after rebounds. The rest of the squad is almost indifferent to rebounding. By contrast Nova can count on Cunningham, a Top 500 offensive rebounder (according to Ken Pomeroy's Villanova Scouting Report Page). Behind him there is Shane Clark (also Top 500), Dwayne Anderson, Malcolm Grant and Pena. A healthy Cas Drummond would dominate the boards in this game.

Want to Beat Scarlet Knights? Then...
1. Defend the shot. This is one of 2 strong indicators for Rutgers. When RU's eFG% is kept below 42.0% the Knights go 1-8. Ironically a great shooting day does not necessarily guarantee a win. Their best combined shooting day to date, a 70.2% effort against DePaul still resulted in a 2 point loss.
2. Dominate their backboard. One of the strongest win/loss indicators for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights will miss shots, don't give them a second chance. RU's record when they get <33.3% of their misses is 1-8. This is also a marker for Villanova -- when the 'Cats fail to rebound more that 33.3% of their opponent's misses they go 2-2.
3. Force turnovers. Of the 13 games in which Rutgers lost 20.0% or more of their possessions they are 4-9.
4. Value the ball. Forcing turnovers (or the failure to force turnovers) can be a problem for the Knights as well. When RU's opponents lose fewer than 21.0% of their possessions, the Knights go 4-8.

...The question is which Wildcat team will show up? The one that went to DePaul and Cincinnati? Those Wildcats let the home team jump out to a double digit lead early, nurse that lead well into the second half and let the home crowd (not to mention the home team...) get very excited at the prospects of beating a Top 25 team. Or will it be the team that traveled to the Carrier Dome last weekend? That Wildcat team attacked Syracuse's zone through penetration, drew fouls from Greene and Flynn and eventually put both on the bench. That team got after their misses and challenged the Orange's interior players. They lived at the line in the second half, silenced the crowd and took away a 10 point win.

Pythagoras at the 30.6% Mark

If the Big East regular season ended today Georgetown would take the regular season title and earn the #1 seed in the Big East Tournament. For anyone who read the preseason previews this should come as no surprise. The surprises are the #2 - #4 seeds -- the three other first round bye seeds. As of today (Monday) those teams would be (I don't know how tie breakers would apply in this situation, given the teams have played 6 games) Cincinnati, DePaul and West Virginia. A few prognosticators, who felt Bob Huggins would not have a long learning curve with the Mountaineer squad, might engage in some self-congratulations, but no one outside of the hard core fan base would have placed the Blue Demons and Bearcats in the top quartile.

I decided to see how things would settle if I applied the Pythagorean Winning Percentage calculation to the teams. Ken Pomeroy uses this formula as part of the ranking system he implemented several seasons ago. Each D1 team's winning percentage appears in the far right column of his Stats Page. I decided to use only the points for and against from Big East play, a practice Pomeroy used for the first 2 or so years that he used the stat. He eventually abandoned this in favor of the season-long winning percentage. The result are shown in the table below. Results are presented in the projected order of finish.

Actual RecordProjected Record
West Virginia6420.66713.05.00.722
Providence College5320.60011.36.70.630
De Paul6420.6679.78.30.540
Notre Dame5320.6007.910.10.442
Seton Hall5230.4007.810.20.432
St. John's5140.2005.912.10.328
South Florida6150.1674.713.30.263

Those who have been wondering what happened to their preseason favorites should find comfort here. Louisville, the projected regular season champ and #1 seed in the BET in this projection was considered a co-favorite with the Hoyas in most preseason polls. Early injuries and (continued) internal strife have, according to common wisdom, hurt their chances to finish among the bye seeds. The balance of the bye seeds here were unanimous (Georgetown, Pittsburgh) bye team selections or present on a few ballots (West Virginia). Other results which coincide with common perceptions so far include:
1. Rutgers and St. John's will struggle. Those two, along with less obvious candidate South Florida, are slated to finish among the bottom three.
2. Cincinnati will finish in the lower division. The projection shows the Bearcats, despite their current 4-2 record, will finish #13 with something like an 8-11 record. The high number of wins, relative to their projected place of finish, is evidence of the "win bias". The #13 team will most likely win 3 - 5 games, making the Bearcats (with 4 already) unlikely candidates for the bottom quartile. If Cincinnati does win 8 games they will finish somewhere between #9 and #11 most likely.

The win/loss breakdown (for those who counted) is about 148/140, overstating the number of wins. The breakdown should be 144/144, not 148/140. Indeed if rounded to the nearest integer, the process applied predicts that 9 teams will win 10 or more games, a very unlikely possibility (the bottom 4 - 5 teams would have very few wins among them). Bill James, originally applied this formula for predicting the order of finish for major league baseball teams during the season. Ken Pomeroy modified the exponent James used (as he explains in his 2004 blog entry "Meet My Friend Pythagoras") to adapt the formula to D1 basketball. Pomeroy compared actual winning percentages to Pythagorean winning percentages to identify lucky and unlucky teams.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Post Game: Syracuse

The I Bleed Blue and White Blog took a stab at "stream of consciousness" postings about the game Saturday. The thoughts are spontaneious and interesting. Worth a read if you get over there. And Let's Go Nova provides a short recap with player evaluations and grades (one A, one B+, a B, two B-'s, two C's, one D and a D-...it was a double digit road win fella! I'm relieved I didn't have you in college...). The breakdown on the boxscore:

Offense Defense

The Wildcats went into the locker room down by 5 at the half. The offensive/defensive eFG%'s tell the story. 91.8 is not bad as a defensive eFG%, the caveat however is that your team has to do better on the offensive side. And the 'Cats, at 77.8 on offense, were not doing better. The irony is that the 'Cuse did not do better (or worse) in the second half. But the 'Cats did. Another half time adjustment is only part of the story however. Presses can help to bump the Stl% from 13.1 to 22.9, and a few adjustments to offensive sets can juice the eFG% from 77.5 to 126.6 (actually that is a huge bump...), but can a halftime adjustment account for a FTA/FGA bump of 38.7 to 103.7. Villanova shot 27 FGAs and took 28 FTAs. This game was well beyond the standard deviation for fouls on a road game. Before this game Villanova averaged about 23.5 FTAs witha standard deviation of about 7.5. This game had Villanova on the line for 40 FTAs.

Odds & Ends...
1. Scottie Reynolds scored 25 in this game to go with 21 points on Wednesday against DePaul. Scottie took Big East Player of the Week honors. Good job Scottie. Over the last three games Scottie is averaging 26 points per game.
2. Dante Cunningham scored his fourth double-double this season.
3. Antonio Pena 's playing time has jumped from 11.8 minutes per game in the OOC to 21.8 in Villanova's 5 Big East games. His scoring average has jumped too. He scored 5.3 points per game in the 11 OOC games. His average has jumped to 11.2 points per game so far.
4. The staff has used a rotation of 9 or 10 players for all of the Big East games so far. Between 7 and 9 players draw double digit time on the court.
5. At (depending on how you do the calculation...) 77-78 possessions, this was the highest pace Villanova has played since the 80 possession Temple game.

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 10

Villanova actually stayed in the Top 25 last week...just barely. As expected, the beat writers jumped ship by the dozens. A total of 30 joined the 9 holdouts from prior weeks and left the Wildcats off their ballots. Those who follow Villanova, Northeast & Big East hoops (and national hoops) will most likely recognize Dana Pennett O'Neil (formerly of the PDN, lately ESPN), Dick Vitale (ESPN), Dick "Hoops" Weiss (columnist for the NYDN and PDN), Dustin Dow (Cincinnati Enquirer, mostly covers X) and Kevin McNamara (Providence Journal, covers the Friars), who were among the 39 who passed over Villanova last week. Vinny however stuck to his guns and ranked Villanova #18 on his ballot. The Nova Nation salutes you Vinny, and know your faith was rewarded this week when the Wildcats brought home two victories to raise their record to 13-3 and 3-2. Their 76-69 win over DePaul was sweet revenge for the road loss on January 3. And the double digit road win over Syracuse on Saturday which should bring a few of the "Reluctant 39" around. We will see...

My Big East Blogger Poll for this week:

1 - Georgetown
2 - Pittsburgh
3 - West Virginia
4 - Notre Dame
5 - Marquette
6 - Villanova
7 - Connecticut
8 - DePaul
9 - Louisville
10 - Seton Hall
11 - Providence
12 - Cincinnati
13 - Syracuse
14 - South Florida
15 - St. John's
16 - Rutgers

Player of the Week: Scottie Reynolds, Villanova

Rookie of the Week: Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall

Who's Up...Who's Down...
Aside from Georgetown at the top and Rutgers, St. John's and South Florida at the bottom, every other team seemed determined to rush to the middle of the conference last week. Those in the top quartile lost some surprising games. Those in the second quartile also split their schedule while those in the bottom two quartiles pulled a handful of upsets. The Hoyas did lose to Pittsburgh early in the week, but they rebounded by whalloping the Irish by 19 points. The Panthers seemed poised to take the top spot (on my ballot anyway) with that 9 point win, but they ran into the surging Cincinnati squad on Saturday and came up 3 points short. I moved Pitt up one spot, to #2 (and I moved Cincinnati up one spot also, to #12). Among my top 4 from last week Marquette in particular appears to be in a funk of sorts. The Warriors dropped two games last week. The first may be understandable, Louisville in Freedom Hall can be pretty tough. But losing by 20 points is baffling. The second loss, on Sunday to Connecticut, is like Louisville, puzzling because of the magnitude of the loss. The Huskies built a 15 point margin in the first half, and then came out and won the second half too, albeit by a single point. And that is troubling for a team that wants to finish in the top 3 - 4 in the conference. I moved MU down from #2 to #5. They host DePaul in their only game this week. I have to think they will do their best to win by a double digit margin, if not to impress the AP voters, then to soothe their egos over this week's losses. Last week the second quartile consisted of Notre Dame, Louisville, West Virginia and Villanova. This week only Villanova remains, as the others have moved up (Notre Dame & West Virginia) or down (Loisville). West Virginia beat up on St. John's and South Florida, while Notre Dame logged a convincing 17 point win over the surging Bearcats, and then dropped a 19 point decision in an uncompetitive effort against Georgetown. The bottom quartile continues to distance themselves from the rest of the conference...

This week's OWs...
Jeremy Hazell of Seton Hall made my search for a worthy ROY candidate very quick. Hazell scored 51 points (18-33, 13-25, 2-5) in 2 Seton Hall wins last week. His 29 point effort against Louisville on Saturday was especially noteworthy. As for the Player of the Week, I considered Da'Sean Butler of West Virginia's 34 points in 2 games (13-27, 4-7, 4-4) very carefully. Butler notched those number against St. John's and South Florida. He had a double-double against USF, and was 1 rebound shy of doing it against the Johnnies. Villanova's Dante Cunningham also had a pretty good week, scoring 28 points in 2 games (12-16, 0-0, 4-5). Dante did his damage against DePaul and Syracuse. Cunningham recorded his fourth double-double of the season against DePaul when he nabbed 13 rebounds to go with his 14 points, and grabbed 8 more rebounds in the Syracuse to bring his 2 game total to 21. But my vote went to his Villanova teammate Scottie Reynolds who shot his way out of his slump last week with a 45 effort over 2 games (13-27, 7-15, 13-14). Reynolds led the 'Cat scorers in both games, versus DePaul on Wednesday and then Syracuse on Saturday. Reynolds also had 5 assists and 8 rebounds....

Friday, January 18, 2008

Post Game: DePaul -- Half Time Adjustments

I have looked at more than a few First Half/Second Half breakdown boxscores the past 3 or so seasons. Many show one team's (but often both team's...) performance changes from the first to the second half. The box score (from Villanova's Official Web Site) shows this game was clearly in the pattern of more than one or two games this season. DePaul dominated in several areas of the game through the first 20 minutes. And then, as chronicaled in the accounts at Let's Go Nova Blog & the I Bleed Blue and White Blog, the Wildcats stormed back with adjustments (in the line-up, the strategy for attacking the basket, the defensive sets, etc.) that turned the game in Villanova's favor. Last night's game, as the breakdown below demonstrates, fits that mold very closely:

Offense Defense
1st 2ndTotal1st2ndTotal

Even a cursory review of the numbers shows that the Villanova squad picked up both offensively and defensively between the halves. Note the improvement in eFG% on both ends of the court. The 'Cats also improved their offensive rebounding, an area where the Blue Demons are not especially strong. Free throw attempts (and makes) as a percentage of FGA took a rather dramatic jump in the second half, a typical phenomena for the home team. Turnovers may have remained as pesky as ever, but the table suggests there was an improvement (albeit extremely modest...) even in this category.

Odds and Ends...
Casiem Drummond checked in for a 3 minutes stint. Drummond, who missed six games due to a stress fracture, is Villanova's best option at the #5, and was sorely missed in the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati games. Hopefully this marks the beginning of his return to the line up.

Dante Cunningham scored his fourth double-double of the season. This is the first of the Big East regular season for Dante.

Points from free throws are becomming a major component of Villanova's scoring in Big East play. In OOC games Villanova posted about 21% of their.score from the free throw line (opponents posted about 22% of their points the same way). In Big East play that percentage has grown to 25% (opponents are still around 20%). For this game that number was 30.3%.

Antonio Pena's playing time has mushroomed in Big East regular season play. His eFG in Big East games is 58.6, while his PPWS has grown to 1.27, both suggest he may be in the process of becoming a third/fourth opiton on offense, a definite growth in his role with the team. The staff may have turned to him for his rebouding though. In Big East play Pena's OReb% is 11.6 (definitely Top 500-type number) while his DReb% is a very respectable 17.1. In the absence of effective field goal defense (and streaky shooting from the offensive mainstays...) effective rebounding has become a priority.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Post Game: Cincinnati -- Gimme an O...

Try to catch the recap/evaluation, "Bearcats Claw Past Nova at the Let's Go Nova Blog, or the official recap, "Late Cincinnati 3-Pointer Dooms Wildcats" over at Villanova's Official Website. These appear to be the only partisan post games, as a strange quiet has descended on the Nova Nation this week. Maybe there are a few (like me...) befuddled Wildcat bloggers trying to figure out just what happened last Saturday in Cincinnati. Or maybe the available contingent of bloggers is depleted because the student body is on break. I decided to go ahead and break down the box score, and see if there is something beyond the usual finger pointing at work here. Aside from the usual defensive woes out at the three point line (the Bearcats went 4-9 in the second half) and unusual (but very understandable) rebounding breakdowns (on the offensive side in the first half, and the defensive side in the second half...see below), there were one or two other nuggets for each team going forward:

Offense Defense
1st 2ndTotal1st2ndTotal

After I had posted my preview and was looking around at the other blogs and messageboards I teased a Cincinnati factoid out of Ken Pomeroy's Cincinnati Game Plan page. If you use the link I have provided to go to the page and left click on the "Eff" column under Defense, you can see it yourself. There are only a few bright line variables when trying to analyze a team's performance, but Cincinnati has a pretty obvious one. In those games (I am excluding the Villanova and Notre Dame results as they were both post Saturday morning...) where Cincinnati gives up more than one point per possession they go 0-6 and conversely, in those games where they hold opponents to less than a point per possession they are (were...) 7-2. The two results since last Saturday merely emphasize the point. Villanova's offense generated 0.975 points per possession (66 points in 67 possessions...), while Notre Dame's offense generated 1.2 points per possession (91 points in 75 possessions). Cincinnati's offense is not going to consistently and efficiently generate points, so the Bearcat's fate will hang on their defense. This of course is muddled in a mediocre record that has, after stumbling out of the gate, circled 0.500 for most of the season. I felt very confident when I saw this, because there are very few nights when the Wildcat offense cannot put at least one point per possession on the board. As luck would have it Saturday was one of those nights. Why it happened is another, more complicated question. Looking at the individual team members using efficiency stats can be helpful...

Rounding up the usual suspects yields a very incomplete analysis that can support some misleading conclusions. Scottie, as most have noted, broke out of his slump in a very big way. But aside from scoring a lot of points (32 of them...), he did it very efficiently. His eFG for the game was a rather high 61.4, as compared to his season-long eFG of 51.2. His PPWS for the game was 1.22, again higher than his seasonal PPWS of 1.11. Shane Clark, Dwayne Anderson and Antonio Pena all had comparable statistics (eFGs -- Anderson 66.7 & 55.0; Clark 75.0, 57.5; Pena 71.4, 57.8). These players were efficient, but they get considerably fewer possessions (opportunities to score) than a number of other players (Cunningham, Fisher, Grant, Stokes). For Cunningham and Grant, the field goal efficiency (eFG) stats for this game are painful -- Cunningham was 0. His average was 53.1. Grant was also 0. His seasona-long eFG going in was 63.9. While with Grant (and Fisher, whose numbers respectively were 39.3 and 50.4) the inclination is to chalk the game up to freshman inconsistency, the case for Cunningham is puzzling. Bearcat head coach Mick Cronin had told the Cincinnati newspapers (and parctically anyone who would listen) that the Bearcat gameplan was to shut down Dante. Someone in Philadelphia was not paying attention. Cronin's plan worked. No Wildcat got an offensive rebound in the first half. Cunningham is a Top 200 rebounder on the offensive glass, per Ken Pomeroy's Villanova Scout Page. And gamelong, no one from the usually reliable stable of prolific shooters/scorers (Fisher, Grant, Redding, Cunningham) stepped up to join Reynolds (and Anderson, Clark, Pena) to put in the needed points. The question as to why Anderson, Clark or Pena did not provide the additional scoring is fairly obvious -- each has had, over the course of this season, a minor role in the offense. They are third/fourth options for scoring, consistent with Villanova's backcourt-heavy offense. The development this season has been the expanded roles for Cunningham (at 19-20% of the possessions and shots he is getting "starter-level" touches) and, when he is in the line up, Drummond.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Vinny Pezzimenti Moment -- Week 9

The 'Cats as expected dropped as a result of their opening game loss to DePaul. Their rebound win over Pittsburgh the following Sunday impressed enough voters to keep them in for another week. The weekend loss to Cincinnati however should put them out of the poll this week. The Wildcats have some work ahead of them still.

My Big East Blogger Poll for this week:

1 - Georgetown
2 - Marquette
3 - Pittsburgh
4 - Connecticut
5 - Notre Dame
6 - Louisville
7 - West Virginia
8 - Villanova
9 - Providence
10 - Syracuse
11 - South Florida
12 - DePaul
13 - Cincinnati
14 - Seton Hall
15 - St. John's
16 - Rutgers

Player of the Week: Sam Young, Pittsburgh

Rookie of the Week: Austin Freeman, Georgetown

Who's Up...Who's Down...
The top quartile changed only a little. The top three continued to win (sometimes impressively...). Notre Dame, Saturday loss to Marquette was expected, but the margin gave me pause to think. There are few good alternatives choice for #4, as very few of the top half teams started cleanly. I am voting for Connecticut as the #4 team, as they beat the Johnnies pretty convincingly on Tuesday and then then dropped a 3 point road decision to #1 Georgetown on Saturday. The second quartile was shuffled quite a bit as I am still not certain how good (or bad...) a few of the teams really are. I dropped Villanova from #5 to #8, as it is clear the young Wildcats are not consistent enough to win on the road. They had two good opportunities for road wins and lost both. As the 3 point loss to Cincinnati on Satruday demonstrates, they don't seem to know how to finish a game yet. West Virginia's road losses to Notre Dame and (last week) to Louisville suggest the Mountaineers have the same problem. But since their wins are more impressive (and abundent...), I moved them ahead of the Wildcats. Syracuse is struggling again, their road losses to Cincinnati last Wednesday and then to West Virginia on Saturday leave me wonderig whether they will make the NCAAs this season. I cannot recall off the top of my head when Syracuse missed two consecutive NCAAa. The bottom quartile is settling a bit as St. John's and Rutgers are really struggling to keep up with the rest of the conference...

This week's OWs...
Austin Freeman of Georgetown had two very good 13 point outings last week. The first was a road game against DePaul and the second, on Saturday, against Connecticut. Freeman moved into the starting lineup just before the start of the Big East season, and has scored 13 points in each of the Hoyas' three Big East games so far. As for the Player of the Week, I voted for Sam Young of Pittsburgh. Young dropped 47 points on South Florida (a road game) and Seton Hall. For a team that is missing their distributor and a scorer in Levance Fields (and Mike Cook), Young, along with Ron Ramon (and freshman Bradley Wanamaker) are doing a terrific job filling in the gaps so far. The Panthers have a big test coming up this week as Georgetown visits tonight. Big Monday is back...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Big East Freshmen: Class of 2011 So Far

There was quite a bit of talk about this year's entering class back in the off season. I think this might have been the most competitive preseason ROY votes among the coaches since the CUSA schools joined back in 2005-06. Connecticut and West Virginia excepted (apologies to Donnell Beverly and John Flowers...), every school had at least one candidate to offer. I thought the pause at New Year it is appropriate to take a look at the freshman class' progress. The OOC is winding down and there are few, if any, Big East tilts in the books. I am running behind in getting this post together and on the blog, but I thought looking at the New Year's data from Ken Pomeroy's site, before we get 2+ weeks into the Big East regular season schedule, would still be productive. I have not listed all of the freshmen in the tables below. I am showing (sorted and ranked by ORtg%) only those who have played > 20.0% of the time at their respective positions, as of January 1. This provides us with a group of about 25 players to review. The All Rookie Team will have ten members plus the ROY, so most (but most likely not all...) of those who will be honored at the end of the BE regular season are somewhere in the tables below.

Austin FreemanGTU52.7129.519.021.768.91.42
Malcolm GrantVU39.5126.619.518.765.31.38
Jonny FlynnSU78.8123.620.819.662.31.31
Rick JacksonSU33.8123.515.617.265.21.28
Jeremy HazellSHU51.8121.918.623.852.51.10
DeJuan BlairPitt56.1120.823.923.157.61.19
Gilbert BrownPitt40.6119.414.816.447.11.07
Jamine PetersonPC27.6117.825.528.851.71.09
Donte GreeneSU86.7117.421.826.356.41.20
Dominique JonesUSF81.9114.422.822.456.01.20
Corey FisherVU55.7108.824.928.250.01.04
Dar TuckerDPU52.6106.630.
Chris WrightGTU44.8102.722.919.755.91.15
Mac KoshwalDPU77.1101.920.617.353.91.10
D J KennedySJU73.099.620.718.751.81.13
Rashad BishopCin57.796.216.917.046.40.96
Justin BurrellSJU81.194.520.
Larry DavisCin33.194.320.824.150.91.09
Corey StokesVU37.792.114.617.633.00.77
Corey ChandlerRU58.190.930.230.454.01.02
Scoop JardineSU36.090.419.418.045.10.99
Paris HorneSJU47.787.
Orin ChinUSF61.586.017.116.938.80.84
Mike CoburnRU51.281.921.621.657.10.84
Malik BootheSJU36.181.715.012.733.90.82
Sean EvansSJU25.579.819.116.750.00.95
Earl PettisRU25.060.119.417.228.10.61

Austin Freeman4.
Malcolm Grant1.34.951.017.320.1
Jonny Flynn1.
Rick Jackson10.714.432.68.315.3
Jeremy Hazell4.27.623.84.86.7
DeJuan Blair20.026.943.45.014.2
Gilbert Brown7.610.719.614.111.9
Jamine Peterson20.
Donte Greene7.016.829.49.216.0
Dominique Jones6.310.456.721.418.0
Corey Fisher0.96.523.127.416.7
Dar Tucker14.716.327.210.38.0
Chris Wright2.912.833.322.426.9
Mac Koshwal10.916.957.810.519.2
D J Kennedy8.020.637.313.826.4
Rashad Bishop12.217.924.316.621.4
Justin Burrell7.817.936.44.123.5
Larry Davis 0.74.714.014.821.8
Corey Stokes4.113.918.28.616.4
Corey Chandler5.16.735.915.323.7
Scoop Jardine2.55.225.519.330.4
Paris Horne4.411.
Orin Chin6.714.551.37.720.6
Mike Coburn3.58.744.718.624.8
Malik Boothe1.54.242.919.227.0
Sean Evans8.
Earl Pettis3.914.725.016.533.9

Data for each player has been drawn from Ken Pomeroy's website, an information resource created and maintained by Ken Pomeroy. Note that where Pomeroy identifies the player as "Top 100" in a specific category, I have highlighted that category with yellow. Those players who are designated "Top 500" in a particular category are highlighted in lime green.

Tracking the Preseason Favorites
Donte Greene -- Syracuse. He is living up to expectations, though the Cuse is suffering with the in season losses of Eric Devendorf (injury) and Josh Wright (left the program), added to the preseason loss of Andy Rautins. ROYs however, tend to come from winning teams who make the post season (usually the NCAA), and without those kudos, I wonder if the voters will give him strong consideration at season's end.
Jonny Flynn -- Syracuse. Also making progress under less than ideal circumstances. As many predicted, he started from day one and put up some terrific numbers in the OOC. Two caveats to consider...with Devendorf (and Rautins) out more of the outside scoring responsibilities have fallen to Flynn and fellow freshman Scoop Jardine. Becoming a principal focus of the defense will (has?) diminish his efficiency, particularly shooting. And with little relief available now that Josh Wright has left the program, even more playing time has fallen to him. Freshman fatigue may become a factor in his (and the team's) late season performance.
Corey Fisher -- Villanova. He broke into the starting lineup around the turn of the new year. He has maintained very respectable (though not ROY-level) numbers, note for example his ARate -- just behind Jonny Flynn and good for a #171 ranking. He will become more consistent in his play over time, as he continues to have "Freshman Moments" (and occasionally Games...). He looks very solid for the All Rookie Team, but probably not the ROY honor.
Mac Koshwal -- DePaul. Has shored up the middle very nicely. He is paired with 5th year senior Wes Green to anchor the Blue Demon's post presence. His numbers are above average for a freshman year, but the Demons are struggling.
Austin Freeman -- Georgetown. Freeman is a proven scorer. He has started the last three games and even with the increased playing time and expanded role in the offense, he is maintaining those efficiency numbers.

Surprise, Surprise
Every year, despite the exhaustive coverage and reams of paper and ink spent covering everyone in the incoming class, some number of players manage to stay off (near the edge of?) the radar screen. Here are five who caught all but the most dedicated team folowers off guard.
DaJuan Blair -- Pittsburgh. The freshman has stepped ahead of two transfers to take Aaron Gray's spot on the court and in Pittsbugh's offense & defense. His rebounding numbers are off the charts, even as his offensive numbers (%Ortg, PPWS, eFG%) suggest very efficient on that side of the ball too. Note his possession and shot percentages (%Poss & %Shot) show he is an integrated part of the offense, not a role/marginal player as some rookies with his efficiencies are. His teammates look to him to take up some of the offensive responsibilities. At this point Blair fits the profile for an ROY. His team is on track for the post season and he is a significant contributor to that effort.
Dominique Jones -- South Florida. Jones has already won a handful of "Rookie of the Week" honors from the conference office. Jones is rated in the Top 500 not only in field goal efficiency, but in assists too. If Jones, working with point guard Chris Howard and center Kentrell Gransberry can get the Bulls to the middle of the conference he may have a chance to take the ROY at season's end.
Jeremy Hazell -- Seton Hall. The Pirates are making a break to the middle of the conference (or higher...), and Hazell's shot may help them get there. Like 5th year senior Jamar Nutter, Hazell specializes in 3s. He is putting in about 50% of the time at a wing spot, and may provide the consistency that SHU fans have looked to Nutter to provide. Most likely not a strong candidate for ROY, he may well, if he can continue at this pace, work himself onto the Rookie Team.
Malcolm Grant -- Villanova. Like Scottie Reynolds, Malcolm Grant fell into Villanova's lap when (this time it was...) Seton Hall changed coaches. Nicknamed Microwave by his teammates, he has twice come off the bench to energize a lethargic Wildcat offense and get the team back into the game. Fans are wondering why the staff has not found a spot in the starting lineup for him.
Gilbert Brown -- Pittsburgh. Tabbed just before the start of the season by the SportingNews' Mike DeCourcy as a pivital player for the Panthers, Brown took the minutes that junior #3 Mike Cook left on the table. Cook went down with an ACL tear at the end of Pitt's victory over Duke, and the door swung wide open for Brown. The subsequent injury to Levance Fields places even more offense/scoring responsibility on Brown's shoulders.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Preview -- Cincinnati Bearcats

The Wildcats face off with the Bearcats in the Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati on Saturday at noon. This might be one of the shortest series in the Big East, given that Nova and Nati have met only three times before, twice in Big East play. The first meeting was in December of 1947. Villanova holds a 3-0 edge, twice winning by 2 points, most recently a 16 point blowout at the Pav last season. Each team comes in off a win, Villanova beat Pittsburgh last Sunday at home while Cincinnati beat Syracuse by 8 on Wednesday night...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
Villanova and Cincinnati share a single opponent so far this year -- NC State:


The Bearcat's best win is their most recent effort, an eight point victory on Wednesday night, complements of Syracuse (BE, 12-4, RPI #12). Other notable victories include a 1 point road win at Louisville (BE, 10-4, RPI #57) and a 6 point home win over Miami (OH) (MAC, 6-7, RPI #50). Those three wins have all come in the last four games. Cincinnati is on a pretty good run right at the moment. Good losses include a ten point home loss to Memphis (CUSA, 13-0, RPI #1) and a five point road loss to Xavier (A-10, 12-3, RPI #8). They are clearly better than their 7-8 record suggests. Villanova's schedule looked better on paper than in practice. Their best win is, like Cincinnati, their most recent game, a one point win over Pittsburgh (BE, 12-2, RPI #9). The Wildcat's next best win came back in November against George Mason (CAA, 10-4, RPI #53) in the Old Spice Classic...

Lineups, Rotations...
...After picking through a large group of transfers last season, Coach Cronin brought in a large freshman class to work with this year. MDAA forward Mike Williams, a transfer from Texas, was lost to a preseason injury. He will most likely be back next season. In the meantime Cronin has those freshmen to assimilate. Deonta Vaughn (6-1, 195, So) has started every game at the point. He has started virtually every game since arriving on campus last season. He has been joined by power forward John Williamson (6-8, 225, Sr) and center Adam Hrycanuik (6-10, 230, Jr). Williamson is a transfer who played the #5 last season while Cincinnati waited (and waited and waited...) for Hrycanuik to be cleared to play by the NCAA. Jamual Warren (6-2, 195, Sr) was sidelined for the first 6 games of the season. After rejoining the team he subbed in for Cincinnati's loss to UAB and rejoined Vaughn as a back court starter in the Bearcat's next game (Illinois State). Small forward Rashad Bishop (6-6, 220, Fr) has started off and on during December, and appears to have taken secured the last "open" starting spot since the beginning of the Big East regular season. Vaughn, Warren, Bishop, Williamson and Hrycanuik will, baring injury, most likely start against Villanova. Coach Mick Cronin has consistently rotated at least 10 players through every game in December and (so far...) January. With the beginning of the Big East season however, he has cut down from an 11-13 rotation to one of 10-11 players. He routinely distributes double digit minutes to 8-9 of those players -- 8 only in Cincinnati's 3 Big East games to date. Expect to see all-purpose guard Marvin Gentry (6-3, 180, Sr) for at least 20 minutes. Front court bench relief has come from bf Marcus Sikes (6-8, 230, Sr), center Anthony McClain (6-11, 245, Fr) and Alvin Mitchell (6-5, 215 Fr). Sikes and (lately) McClain see double digit minutes while Mitchell contributes regularly, but in doses of 10 minutes or less. #2 guard Larry Davis (6-3, 180, Fr) started several games at the beginning of the season, but has seen his minutes decline since Warren's return. Forwards Kenny Belton (6-8, 245, Fr) and Darnell Wilks (6-7, 195, Fr), along with guard Branden Miller (6-4, 195, Jr), are available if "deep bench relief" is required.

Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham, Shane Clark and Reggie Redding have started virtually every Villanova game (when they are healthy) this season. As a result of Casiem Drummond's stress fracture freshman point guard Corey Fisher has started. The rotation has included Malcolm Grant (almost always good for 10 or more minutes), Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena. The staff is learning to work with a rotation larger than previous seasons. How to mix a lineup with those players (and Dwayne Anderson?) has been a challenge. It continues to be a work in progress. Expect to see all nine of those players in some combination throughout the game.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Villanova plays for about 70 possessions per game while Cincinnati prefers a more deliberate pace (about 66-67). Pomeroy, according to his Cincinnati Schedule Page, predicts the game will be played at something closer to Villanova's preference, 69 possessions. The "Four Factors" take when Cincinnati has the ball:

CU's Off47.723521.414333.517323.7184
VU's Def52.525725.53232.312643.8296

Neither team does particularly well on this side of the ball -- Cincinnati is not especially efficient when shooting, and Villanova is not particularly good at defending the shot. The Bearcats are more accurate (according to Pomeroy's Cincinnati Scouting Report) when they shoot 2FGAs -- they make about 46.7% of them. Unfortunately for Villanova, Cincinnati likes to shoot 3s, which happens to be Villanova's weakness. The Bearcats hit their 3s at a 33.0% rate, well down in the D1 ranks (#236). The problem is that Villanova has made a number of poor 3 point shooting teams look very good. Stopping Deonta Vaughn will have to be a priority. Vaughn hit 43.4% of his 3s. And he likes to shoot 3s -- about 57% of his attempts are from behind the line. Hrycanuik and Williams form, along with Vaughn, the core of Cincinnati's scoring offense. Each takes > 22% of the squad's possessions and 20% or more of the teams' shots while on the court. If all are on the court at the same time then, expect 3 of 4 attempts to come from one of those three. None however is extremely efficient. In Big East play Cincinnati's team PPWS is 1.07, suggesting that if they get about 1.07 points per FGA. Villanova has used a variety of presses and traps to force turnovers and limit their opponent's FGAs. While most of Cincinnati's starters and rotation tend to turn the ball over on 20%-25% of their possessions (Vaughn's TORate is 22.0), several players, Jamual Warren and John Williamson in particular, are very sure handed. Both are Top 500 at not turning the ball over. As for misses, Cincinnati is a very average offensive rebounding team (Williamson is their best on the offensive boards), while Villanova is a bit better than average on limiting those rebounds. Boards and 3 point may be crucial areas if the Wildcats are to win.

The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Cincinnati's defense:

VU's Off51.711118.12239.32628.467
CU's Def48.913718.332430.57142.2278

Again we see another even matchup on field goal shooting & defense. It will be interesting to see who dominates this matchup. If the Villanova guards go inside however, they may find it looks a bit like the Pitt interior defense (only not quite as good). A lot of tall trees in the paint. It seems the Wildcats should have a turnover-reduced game. They will get their chance to shoot as the Bearcats will most likely not challenge them as they set up their offense. Both teams are very good at rebounding on this side of the court. Villanova's offense may have to do with fewer second chance opportunities.

Want to Beat Cincinnati Then...
1. Defend their FGAs. When Cincinnati's eFG has been < 50.0 they are 2-6. If their eFG is 50.0 or greater they are 5-2.
2. Limit turnovers. Opponents who limit their own turnover rate to 18.4% or less are 6-3 against the Bearcats.
3. Keep Deonta Vaugn off the court. In games when Vaughn has foul trouble the Bearcats are 2-4. In games in which Vaughn plays fewer than 30 minutes the Bearcats are 0-3.
4. Keep them off the line. When Cincinnati has an FTRate (FTA/FGA) < 34.0 they are 2-6.

...The staff must really miss Cas Drummond at times like this, because the Wildcats face yet another big front court team. Watching the Wildcats open Big East play against DePaul and then Pittsburgh, I have the sense the individual team members are still learning how to play together. The staff, confronted with so many skilled individual players, continues to work through the combinations. And the team members have to learn how to win on the road. This game should give the fans an idea of how far along on the learning curve everyone is.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Post Game: Pittsburgh

If you did not catch the game recap with player grades ("Villanova Edges #13 Pitt") over at Let's Go Nova or the two, more personal reactions ("Hell Yeah" and "View from the Student Section") over at I Bleed Blue and White, you should. They have done a wonderful job recounting individual and team exploits, efforts I would not dream of trying to match. I thought I would break down the box score a little though, and see how the team did with a few areas I and others have touched on several times this season. During the Nova Nation's celebration of the win a few fans noted that while much has been rightly made about freshman Malcolm Grant's heroics in energizing the offense during the second half, perhaps too little was made of junior Dante Cunningham's free throws with 10 seconds left that put Villanova ahead for the last time. Free throws (and fouls) throughout the second half, as the breakdown (below) demonstrates, had a significant impact on the course and outcome of the game. This was a "weird win", similar to a number of Villanova's victories over the past three seasons:

Offense Defense
1st2ndTotal 1st2ndTotal

As the numbers suggest, neither team was particularly efficient (offensively) in the first half. Watching the game, I had the sense that this was devolving into a rock fight. Villanova's offensive efficiency, 90.2, was one of the poorer first half performances this season, but the Wildcats went into the locker room with a tie, largely because Pitt's offensive efficiency, 85.0, was even worse than the Wildcats. The play-by-play announcer tracked the Panther's extremely high turnover rate, largely by counting and comparing the mounting total to Pitt's yearly average. The TORate (highlighted in yellow above) reinforces the point. Pittsburgh ended nearly 4 in 10 1st half possessions via a turnover and not with a field goal attempt or free throw. Pittsburgh was tied with Villanova at the half because they shot better than Villanova and rebounded their misses. Those two areas compensated for the horrific turnover rate. Villanova was tied with Pittsburgh at the half because they shot very poorly and did not rebound their misses effectively (one and done). Both teams made adjustments at the half, and Pitt came out with an even better eFG% in the second half, cut their turnovers and maintained (at least) parity on the offensive boards. Villanova's eFG% barely improved, but the 'Cats continued to take care of the ball and did a better job of rebounding, both offensively and defensively. The margin of victory however, came at the free throw line. The Wildcats hit the line at a rate slightly better than 1 per 2 FGAs. Villanova took 15 FTAs to Pittsburgh's 4. Dante's game ending free throws were a quiet symbol of the Wildcat's 2nd half effort.

When looking at why a team wins a particular game I can usually look no farther than shooting percentages (2 & 3 point shooting percentages, eFG% and PPWS), Offensive and Defensive Ratings and maybe offensive rebounding. One team usually does those three better than the other, and that largely accounts for how that team won. I suggested the Pitt victory was weird earlier because the Wildcats won but did not out perform Pitt in those crucial areas. Villanova was able to (severely) limit Pitt's scoring opportunities by forcing turnovers (see Stl% under defense in addition to the turnover rates), while maximizing their own opportunities by not losing the ball. Given the loss of Levance Fields, coupled with Ramon's lingering injuries (and Wanamaker's lack of experience), this strategy makes even more sense. Villanova attacked the offensive and defensive glass in the second half and that in part translated into more trips to the line. Ultimately 28% of Villanova's scoring came from free throws. That is pretty high and characteristic of teams like Connecticut which are agressive and very skilled defensively. If Dante's free throws can be a thumbnail sketch of Villanova's winning efforts, it should be coupled with Ron Ramon's turnover in Pitt's last possession.