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.

2 comments: said...

Again... another amazing pre-game preview. We missed them last week!

greyCat said...

Thanks for the nod. I had other commitments, long neglected, that I had to attend to before posting here again. I also wanted to change the format for the Big East games. This is a game the Wildcats ought to win. Nova needs to establish they can win on the road in an unfriendly (hostile?) environment. Hopefully they will.