Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rhode Island Post Game: Philly Classic Champs!

The Villanova Wildcats took home the Philly Classic Championship for 2008 with a 15 point win over the Rams of Rhode Island University. The Palestra has been kinder than usual to the 'Cats this Thanksgiving as Nova put together two very good defensive efforts over the two day run. The 'Cats found offense in some unexpected places Saturday against the Rams.

Chris over at IBBW posted his recap/analysis earlier this evening. Tim over at Nova News posted a placeholder with a promise of a detailed recap on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Official Athletic website has posted the usual AP wire story. They have included the box score and a good post game addition to Mike Sheridan's Nova Notebook series, "Redding's Grit Helped 'Cats Ease Past URI". Sheridan brings out the best in the players, and this one is worth the time to read. The splits...

OpponentRhode Island 
 Offense Defense

I anticipated this game would be something like a scoring race, but it according to the numbers (and Ram Coach Jim Baron's demeanor...) Villanova's defense successfully blunted the Rams' offense, particularly in the second half. Rhody's heralded offense was scoring at a 1.22 points per possession clip, efficient enough to earn the Rams a #3 ranking in Offensive Rating (see Pomeroy's Rhode Island Scouting Report). Note from the half splits above, the 'Cats held the Ram offense to 0.97 points per possession, nearly 20% below their "adjusted efficiency", entire game considered, and to over 25% below efficiency in the second half. The keys were shot defense, pressure to create turnovers and defensive rebounding. Villanova's defense threw the Rams off in all three categories, holding the Rams to well below their shooting average (especially 3 point shooting), while forcing more than average turnovers. The Rams were able to get back to their normal level for offensive rebounds in the second half, but keeping them well below that number in the first half no doubt kept their scoring down (allowing the 'Cats to hit the locker room with a 7 point lead. Keys to Villanova's offense again involved keeping turnovers down, controlling the boards and getting to the line. That combination yet again offset another terrible shooting night.

1. Corey Fisher and Dante Cunningham were named to the All Tourney Team. Dante was named Tournament MVP.
2. Reggie Redding logged the first double-double of his Villanova career. He scored 11 points on 3-8 (1-4,2-4), 4-5 shooting, and grabbed 12 rebounds (5-7-12). Congratulations Reggie!
3. Corey Fisher went on a tear in the Palestra, shooting at a 62.5% (eFG) clip. He scored 25 points between the two games.
4. Dante Cunningham also recorded a double-double in the Rams game. It is the second double-double for Dante this season. Dante scored 31 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the two Palestra games.
5. Both teams had horrible nights behind the arc. Nova went 2-15 (0.133), while Rhody shot 3-13 (0.231). Both were well off their season-long number. Great defense? Or the Palestra just being the Palestra?

Ref Notes
The crew was full of familiar faces, Bob Donato, Bill McCarthy and Brian O'Connell have all ref'ed multiple Nova games over the past 3 or so seasons. They whistled a total of 46 fouls between the two teams, in the higher range for Villanova games this season, but not exceptionally high. Not true for the Rams I suspect as I reviewed the FTA/FGA numbers on the Rhody Scouting Report and the splits above. Coach Baron's technical near the end of the game was another clue. As it worked out, while none of the 'Cats fouled out, the Rams actually were given only four fewer trips to the line.

Roster Notes
1. Casiem Drummond and Maurice Sutton dressed but were DNP, Coach's decision. This was the second game since his suspension that Drum has failed to log PT.
2. Dwayne Anderson dressed and warmed up with the team. An announcement about his status is expected next week.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Guest Contributor: Ray Floriani on Preseason NIT

By Ray Floriani

NEW YORK CITY - One of the great benefits of tempo free stats is the degree of measurement. Covering UAB and Boston College in the pre-season NIT consolation it was evident that BC, on it's way to an 83-77 win over UAB, had the stronger second half. But how strong? The 20 minute breakdowns told the story.

1st Half2nd halfGame
Boston College85154120

The first half was a 34 possession game. For the game it was a 69 possession contest.

A major part of BC’s phenomenal second half was the outstanding play of BC guard Tyrese Rice. At the half Rice was 0-2, with zero points and two fouls in seven uneventful minutes. He finished with 24 points. 4 assists on 7 of 9 shooting (5 of 5 from three point land). Put simply, he didn’t miss a field goal attempt the final twenty minutes.

The NBA used a common player efficiency index that adds as positives, field goals, free throws, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and points, while subtracting turnovers and missed shots. Under that index, Rice had a 1 at the half which divided by his minutes yields a poor, 0.148. For the game however, his final totals were 28, which, when divided by his PT (27 minutes), yields a spectacular 1.037. As Mike Davis, the UAB coach observed, he knew Rice had the ability to go off and that second half he did.

The second game, won by Oklahoma over Purdue 87-82 in OT, illustrated a point. Note the foul disparity -- Oklahoma was 33 of 46 from the line compared to Purdue’s 4 of 5. Now note that the percentage of shots taken beyond the three point arc...

Team3 Pct.

And a good percentage of Purdue’s two point attempts were jumpers while OU penetrated and went inside. Simply, you want to get to the line get your shot selection closer to the basket.

Towson Post Game: Cliches

The Towson announcers must have said it a dozen or more time -- (Towson Coach) Pat Kennedy was going to "take the air out of the ball" to enhance the Tigers' odds of winning. The theory is simple enough; think of the difference between a free throw shooting contest as opposes to a game of HORSE. Control for possessions by giving each contestant an equal (and relatively small) number of opportunities and the less skilled player has a slightly better chance of winning. And that's what Towson tried to do. And from their post game interview, it sounded as if they were pretty happy with the result...

I Bleed Blue and White Blog's Chris was first to press with his reflections on the game. He was ahead of the official web site, so he linked to ESPN sources for the recap and the box score. The Athletic Department's website posted their AP recap shortly after 12:30am. The box score followed at some point after that (I went to bed...).

The Philadelphia media was...objective, as usual. "IN JAY WRIGHT'S tenure at Villanova, Wildcats games generally are not works of art. They are more often than not a test of wills.
No matter the opponent, Villanova will attack on defense to wear down a team and then have enough offensive spurts against tired legs to find a way to win, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot
..." Announced Dick Jerardi, the (resident) dean of Philadelphia sports writers, over at the PDN. His analysis, "Villanova starts off slow, then pulls away...", suggested the 'Cats ran the Tigers down, employing superior athleticism, tight defense and speed to wear down their opponent. He got the defense right. If Towson's legs were tired, it had to be from standing around (see pace below...the lowest this season). An interesting read, and unusual for Jerardi, as he usually does not write about basketball during the weekend. He saves Villanova news for his Monday wrapup column. Of course the A10's Rhode Island will face Villanova tonight, maybe he is there to cover the Rams...The Inky's Joe Juliano's contribution, "Wildcats' defense steps up". Juliano accurately identified the uptick in second half defense, and in a contradiction to Jerardi's assertion that the slow pace was dictated by Towson's multiple zones (the Tigers switched between a 1-3-1 and 2-3 on most defensive stands...), Juliano suggested the 'Cats played uncomfortably faster because of the zones (rushed shots?). The breakdown by halves:

 Offense Defense
eFG%58.743.350.0 41.732.037.3
TORate30.114.422.9 18.524.821.4
OR%33.347.641.7 30.036.433.3
FTA/FGA47.826.735.8 16.736.025.5
ARate90.958.373.9 63.671.466.7
Stl% 12.414.113.2
PPWS1.170.921.03 0.860.650.76

It's the Defense, Again
The Wildcats posted pretty good first half numbers for offense, but taking the game as a whole, the offense was not especially memorable. Note the paradox between the first and second half offensive ratings and eFG%. Even though the shooting efficiency declined, the Wildcat's offensive rating improved. Nova cut their turnovers and took a larger percentage of their offensive boards. An interesting way to get a sense of how important rebounding and turnovers are to the Wildcat offense (the importance of each element is unique to each team). On defense, I thought Villanova might be able to exploit the Tiger's freshman guard (Troy Franklin). It was partially true. Franklin did turn the ball over 3 times in the first half, but took a seat after 13 minutes when he picked up his third foul. He played only 10 minutes of the second half before being DQ'd with his fifth foul. Rather than reach into his bench for his back up point guard (Vernon Carr), Coach Kennedy opted to go taller, brought in Georgetown transfer Josh Thornton, and turned the ball over to Morris and Thornton. They did a passable job for the balance of the half (and the game).

1. Six players (Cunningham, Fisher, Pena, Redding Reynolds and Stokes) logged 70% or more playing time for the first time this season. Looks like the staff is settling into their rotation. Among the six the distribution of time was pretty even, ranging from 70% to 77%.
2. Cunningham and Pena shared their front court offensive responsibilities pretty evenly for a change. Antonio took 18.3% of the possessions and 216% of the shots when he played. For Cunningham those numbers were 17.5% and 20.6% respectively. A good development this early, let's hope they can continue into the Big East season.
3. Scottie and Corey Fisher broke their shooting slumps against the Tigers. Maybe the zone forced them to shoot? Coupled with Cunningham and Pena, the four all scored in double digits. While all were also efficient, Fisher and Reynolds had eFG%s of 62.5 and 72.2 respectively. They logged PPWSs of 1.17 and 1.41 respectively.
4. The Towson front court had problems keeping up with the 'Cats as all four forwards who played, Clark, Cunningham, Pena and Tchuisi had FTA/FGAs of 66.7, 50.0, 80.0 (way to go Antonio!) and 100.0 respectively.

Ref Notes
Jeff Clark, Tom Clougherty and Pat Driscoll ran the game. Thirty total fouls, like the Monmouth game, made this the second low foul game in a row for the Wildcats. The distribution however, favored the Wildcats this time. The Tigers and Wildcats did get to the line more, 33 times versus 26 times in the Monmouth game. This is the second game this season for Clark and Clougherty.

Roster Notes
1. Villanova center Casiem Drummond dressed for the game, but was DNP coach's decision. Rumors abound concerning his status.
2. Dwayne Anderson may resume practice as early as December.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Preview -- Rhode Island

The Wildcats and Rams, winners their respective semifinal games at the Philly Hoops Classic on Friday, are slated to face each other in the finals of the Independence Bracket. Rhode Island and Villanova share a coach, the legendary Jack Kraft finished his career in Kingston after his 12 year run on the Mainline. Krafty built a winner in Kingston, returning Rhody to the post season in the years before his retirement. Bad health forced him out of the head chair at the beginning of the 1981 season (URI's first in the Eastern Eight Conference). The Wildcats lead the series 4-2 -- all 6 games were played between 1924 and 1950. The Rams earned a bid to the NITs last season, and from appearances so far, are hungry for more...

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a B and the bench/depth a C+. The BRY projected Rhody to finish #9 (out of 14) in the A10 this season. College Chalktalk Blog's Chris DiSano wrote a very detailed preview of Rhody that placed the Rams #9 in the conference...and the A10 coaches made it unanimous in their preseason poll, announced on Media Day.

With some quality players left over from a 21-12 (7-9) team and some promising newcomers joining the ranks, it could be an interesting year in Kingston.

"I think it's been a real good transition," said coach Jim Baron of how his incoming players have meshed with the veterans. "They're really good athletes. We want to try to continue pushing the basketball like we did the last two years. "These new guys will add a lot of depth, as well as athleticism to a solid program. Along with that, our sophomore class will make it very exciting"
--Rich Fisher's season preview, 11/10/08

Why Everyone Believes...
...The Rams had a great jag last season, running their record to 19-3 and a Top 25 rank in the polls before dropping 7 of their last 9 games to finish 21-12, dropping first round games in the A10 tournament and the NIT. The Rams lost leading scorer Will Daniels (forward) and assist leader Parfait Bitee (point guard), but bring back senior sg Jimmy Baron and 2 older but wiser starters from last seaon's squad. Coach Jim Baron has wno over 300 games during a career that spans two decades.

So Far...
Rhode Island (A10, 5-1, RPI #32) has wins over Brown (Ivy, 2-3, #136 RPI), Monmouth (NEC, 0-6, #267 RPI), VCU (CAA, 2-2, #185 RPI), Hartford (AE, 2-4, #169 RPI) and Penn State (Big Ten, 5-1, #154 RPI). Their sole loss, a 4 point road heartbreaker, to Duke (ACC, 7-0, #11 RPI). The 'Cats and Rams both played share several opponents this year:

The 'Cats enter this game sporting a 5-0 record - their most recent an uneven 17 point victory over Towson.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Rhody has quite a few options with the departure of Daniels. Coach Baron has decided to go with experience by starting senior Kahiem
Seawright (6-8, 235lbs) and junior Delroy James (6-8, 220lbs). Returners senior Jason Francis (6-9, 280lbs), junior Lamont Ulmer (6-6, 215lbs) and sophomore center Will Martell (7-0, 245lbs) are joined by transfer Ben Eaves (6-7, 225lbs), a junior who put in 2 years with Coach Calhoun at Connecticut, and freshman Orion Outerbridge (6-9, 210lbs). Through Tuesday James and Seawright have started and seen most of the available minutes, as Coach Baron is going with a 'tweener frontcourt. Ulmer is first off the bench (for the front court), while Martell and Eaves appear to round out "the second wave" Francis and Outerbridge have minutes, though aren't part of the rotation. Seawright, James and Martell have been foul-prone so far, as Seawright has logged 4 fouls in 3 of the Rams' first 4 games. And Martell fouled out of the Duke game.

Cunningham and Pena will start for Villanova, while Clark, if previous games are a measure, will provide efficient scoring in limited minutes. Beyond those three the rotation appears to be game-to-game, with senior Frank Tchuisi, junior Casiem Drummond and walk-on Russell Wooten potentially available to contribute. Cunningham and Pena have had to sit out first half action twice over fouls.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...The Rams back court features pre-season All-A10 Conference 3rd Team #2 guard senior Jimmy Baron (6-3, 195lbs), the son of coach Jim Baron, and Rhode Island record holder for most 3 point field goals in a single season (99). Feeding Baron are point guards sophomore Marquis Jones (6-1, 200lbs) and freshman Steve Mejia (5-9, 175lbs). Junior Keith Cothran (6-4, 195lbs) puts in time on the wing while freshman Jamal Wilson (6-5, 195lbs) provides depth. Coach Baron has opted for experience by starting son Baron, Cothran and Jones in all 6 games this season. Baron has logged 76.0% of the minutes at the #2 through the Rams' first 5 games. Cothran & Jones have logged about 66.0% of the minutes at the point and wing. Cothran went on a tear against Monmouth, VCU and Hartford, scoring 18, 23 and 22 points respectively. For the season he has hit 61.7% of his FGAs (eFG% is 80.0) through Tuesday's Hartford game. Baron may play a larger role in the offense, but Cothran has been quietly(?) putting up very efficient points. Mejia is getting an average of double digit minutes backing up Jones.

The Wildcats feature second team All-Big East Scottie Reynolds, All-Big East Rookie First Team Corey Fisher, sophomore Corey Stokes and junior utility man Reggie Redding. Reynolds and the Two Coreys will start, but count on seeing Redding for at least 20 minutes. Reynolds and Fisher had terrible outings against Monmouth, shooting a combined 3-14 from the field, making it up somewhat with a 7-8 from the line (13 points). They managed to compensate by dishing (between them...) 8 assists (4 turnovers), 6 rebounds (all Reynolds) and 4 steals. Against Towson...

Rhode Island By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years Rhody's RPI has swung widely from a low of #301 (2006-07) to a high of #77 (2003-04). Last season's squad was ranked #82. The Rams take a very average 68.5 possessions (adjusted) per game this season, ranking them #168 (per Ken Pomeroy's Efficiency Stats Page) -- the D1 average (as of 11/27/08) is about 68.6. A four factors comparison of Villanova and Rhode Island shows...

When Rhode Island has the ball...
Ram O57.116.841.126.0
'Cat D44.324.027.334.9

This is a strength vs strength matchup. Rhody is ranked #25 on eFG%, with special accuracy with 3 point shooting (46.1). Nova's eFG% defense is ranked #79 (but remember that is against some pretty mediocre competition), with a lackluster #108 ranking versus 3FGAs (31.1). Rhode Island takes about 31% of their FGAs as 3s, but if the Wildcats are especially effective in shutting down the close-in shots, expect Baron and Cothran to step it up on the outside. There will be fireworks when the Rams have the ball. Two of the three other factors (TO% and OR%) also match strengths. The Rams value the ball while the 'Cats expect to force the Rams to cough up about 1 in 4 possessions with no FGA. And Rhode Island expects to grab about 4 in 10 of their missed FGAs, while Villanova expects to limit the Rams to less than 3 in 10.

When the roles are reversed...

When Villanova has the ball...
'Cat O56.917.739.839.0
Ram D55.321.734.734.5

The Rams show some serious weakness on the defensive end, and this might be where the 'Cats can make up ground. Rhody's eFG%, their ability to defend the FGA, is weak as they are ranked #303 (out of 343) -- very weak indeed. They are especially porous against the 2FGA, ranking #318 in that category. This could be a very big game for the Villanova frontcourt, if they can stay in the game. The Rams are also not especially aggressive (in general, but also...) on the defensive boards, another area where the 'Cats shine (complements of Dante & Pena). Rhody will be vulnerable to putbacks from the frontcourt players. Interestingly, Villanova is slightly less effective than the Rams offensively, but given the differential on defense, expect the 'Cats to be far more effective in this area of the game. Duke has a slightly more effective defense than Villanova (see the Duke Scouting Report over at Ken Pomeroy's site), with a similar profile -- rebounding, 2FGA defense, turnovers, etc. In their game at Cameron Arena, the Rams took a one point lead into the locker room, but could not hold it in the second half when Duke became considerably more effective from the field and took control of their offensive boards.

Final Thoughts...
These teams are twins, albeit Villanova has the edge on talent and athleticism...and defense. The 'Cats have the better of it when back courts are compared, but Rhode Island has been able to rely on consistent scoring from two of their three guards. The Villanova guards need to shake off their shooting slump while continuing to provide good defense. The game could easily turn on whether either team can take the early lead & hold it, and keep their bigs out of foul trouble (and in the game).

Coach Wright has used a pretty consistent 10 man rotation for the first five games, doling out double digit minutes to 7-8 (the starters plus Redding, Clark and maybe one of Tchuisi or Drum?) of the 10.

The game will be played for about 65 possessions (a bit lower than the D1 average...Villanova has played in a larger than usual low possessions games so far) and will favor Villanova by 9 or so points, in the closest game yet this season.

Roster Notes
Villanova --
1. Still shorthanded in the front court with Dwayne Anderson still not cleared with foot problems and Maurice Sutton benched pending a redshirt.
2. Casiem Drummond dressed, but was DNP Coach's decision.

Rhode Island -- Nothing to report.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Preview -- Towson

The Wildcats and Tigers meet in the semifinal round of their bracket in the 2008 edition of The Philly Hoops Classic. The game will be played in the Palestra, home court for the Penn Quakers and the "neutral" site used for years to host all Big 5 games. Villanova and Towson have played three games in a series that dates back to 1981. This is the first time, however, they have met in the Palestra. Villanova holds a 3-0 edge. Nova won their last meeting (2001) by a 87-75 score. The Towson program is guided by Pat Kennedy, a veteran D1 head coach whose career spans 27 years and includes stops at Iona College (NY), Florida State, (fellow Big East conference member) DePaul and Montana where he has compiled a 449-367 record. Coach Kennedy's personal record versus Villanova is 0-1 (a 67-66 loss at the Red Lobster Classic, Orlando, FLA, in 1988-89).

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a A and the bench/depth a B. Blue Ribbon Yearbook (Mike Litos author) picked Towson to finish #7 in the 12 member Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Jeff Borzello over at March Madness All Season Blog lists Towson among "Rounding Out the Pack" (lowest category) in his CAA Preview. Joel Welser over at CHN ranked the Tigers #289 out of 341 (#12 of 12 in the CAA) for his 144 Teams Project. The CAA coaches picked Towson to finish #9 in conference play at their annual Media Day Celebration. The team over at Rush the Court Blog picked Towson to finish #10 in their CAA Conference Preview. Most of the preview is devoted to the conference elites (VCU, George Mason, etc.), so there is little written about the Tigers.

Why Everyone Believes...
...Coach Pat Kennedy seems to specialize in rebuilding programs. The Tigers moved up to the CAA two years before he arrived and struggled to be competitive at the CAA level. Coming off of the floor (a 6-23 record) his first season at the helm, the Tigers have been able to get double digit wins in each of the last 3 seasons. The progress has been uneven, but generally upward. Senior forward Junior Hairston was selected to the All-CAA 2nd Team by the CAA coaches.

So Far...
...Towson (CAA, 3-1, RPI #66) brings a 3-1 record to this match. Notable (i.e. only) wins by the Tigers -- Navy (Pat 3-1, #135), Hampton (MEAC, 1-2, #117) and NJIT (ind, 0-3, #150). The 'Cats and Tigers have both played Niagara (another Philly Hoops Classic participant) this month:

The 'Cats enter this game sporting a 4-0 record - their most recent effort, against the Monmouth Hawks (fellow Philly Hoops Classic participant), had the Wildcats hit the locker room at the half up by 32, and cruise through the second half for a 23 point win (71-48). The 'Cats closest game, against Niagara, was a 15 point win.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...The front court begins with senior forward Junior Hairston (6-8, 205lbs), a College of Charleston transfer who started every game for Towson last season (his first in the CAA). Hairston led the Tigers in 4 categories last season, including points scored (360), field goal percentage (0.438) and rebounding (9.1). Other returnees include seniors Tony Durant (6-7, 245lbs) & Tommy Breaux (6-8, 210lbs), along with sophomores Robert Nwankwo (6-8, 220lbs) and David Brewster (6-6, 205lbs). Durant started 23 of Towson's 31 games last season, but after an early suspension, has found himself behind a couple of newcomers by way of transfer. Coach Kennedy has taken the transfer route to build up his front court. The incoming transfers who qualify to play this season include, junior Calvin Lee (6-7, 200lbs) and sophomore Jarrel Smith (6-7 200lbs) who are joined by redshirt freshman Ricardo Brown (6-5, 215lbs). Jarrel Smith has gotten all 4 starts so far, with the other starter split between Lee and Nwankwo. Other front court players in the rotation include Hairston who returned against Niagara, and Brewster.

Villanova will counter with senior Dante Cunningham and sophomore Antonio Pena, both starters for all four games in the 2008-09 season. Senior Shane Clark and junior Casiem Drummond should also be present in the rotation. Senior Frank Tchuisi will provide end of half relief if needed.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Coach Kennedy's philosophy of building through transfers extended into the back court last season as junior Georgetown transfer Josh Thornton (6-2, 175lbs) who began play last January. Joining him are returning seniors Rocky Coleman (6-3, 180lbs), 3 point shooter Tim Crossin (6-1, 175lbs) and backup point guard Vernon Carr (6-2, 200lbs) who started 8 games at the #1 last season. Sophomore transfers Jimmy Smith (6-4, 180lbs), brother of Jarrel and Brian Morris (6-5, 171lbs) who moved over from Richmond appear ready to join the rotation. True freshman Troy Franklin (5-11, 160lbs) has started the Tigers first four games at the #1. The Smith brothers transferred in from Colorado State. Manning the deep bench are redshirt sophomore Caleb McClary (6-0, 175lbs) and senior (former walk-on) Ryan Kannegieter (5-11, 172lbs). Coach Kennedy has started Thornton, Morris and Franklin, while divvying up the remaining minutes (during various games) among Crossin, Coleman and Carr. Unless he wants to go bigger versus Villanova, Coach Kennedy will most likely stay with the Thornton, Morris, Franklin trio.

Villanova will counter with Reynolds, Fisher and Stokes. Reynolds and Fisher had terrible outings against the Monmouth Hawks. Scottie scored 9 points on 1-6 (0-3, 7-8) shooting, his lowest scoring output since Villanova lost at Louisville last March. Fisher has now had two games of relatively inefficient output. In the Niagara game however he was able to compensate for poor shooting by grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing 5 assists. His off the ball production verseus Monmouth was a bit more modest. A bounce-back game would be reassuring to the fans. Stokes keeps rolling along. The additional foot has not affected his scoring touch from distance. His eFG% remains (well) North of 50.0 (77.6) while he continues to contribute with assists and boards.

Towson By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years Towson's RPI has swung in a 150 rank range, from a high of #156 to a low of #302. Last season the Tigers finished ranked #278. Towson is a little higher than average pace team this season (69.9 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Towson Scout Page which ranks the Tigers #133 out of approx. 344 - the current average for pace is 68.7). A Four Factors comparison of Towson's offense versus Villanova's defense (complements of Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report for Towson and Villanova) looks like this...

When Towson has the ball...
Tiger O46.620.735.730.1
'Cat D44.324.027.334.9

Towson's eFG% is a weakness for them. They are ranked at about #233 in that category. The culprit is 2 point shooting, likely given Junior Hairston's suspension and Josh Thornton's minislump. The front court has been relatively productive, but Towson's back court has been a bit uneven in point production. The other stat of interest is the turnover rate. Villanova's defense forces them (that 24.0 translates into an #85 rank), while Towson's offense tends to give them up (their rank is #143). The Tigers were especially careless against Hampton (average backcourt, but first game) and Niagara (aggressive back court). Shutting down Thornton and forcing turnovers could well stall out the Tigers. Turning around to look at the Four Factors from the other side of the ball...

When Villanova has the ball...
'Cat O56.917.739.839.0
Tiger D43.222.440.621.6

The Wildcats have been especially strong on field goal efficiency (despite the minislump from Fisher and Reynolds...), ranking #29 overall in eFG%. Nova's strongest point has been 3 point shooting (thank you Mr. Stokes...), an area of strength for Towson as well. This should be a good indicator of the Wildcat's fortunes -- if the 'Cats can hit the long ones consistently, then they should roll. Towson is pretty average on 2 point defense (ranked #233 on 44.8). This could be an opening for another big night by senior Dante Cunningham. Dante has been on a tear lately, putting up an average of 18.5 ppg through the 'Cats first four games. 'Te has maintained an impressive eFG% of 63.0 with a PPWS of 1.31, suggesting he is very efficient when scoring. He has also maintained "go-to guy" level possessions and shots (>26.0), indicating he is overpowering the competition so far. Antonio Pena has also provided efficient scoring, but has assumed more a "role player/regular/starter" level possessions and shots (15% < 22%). Towson's area of vulnerability is rebounding -- they are ranked #318 overall for limiting opponent's offensive rebounds. Villanova by contrast is very good at offensive rebounding (ranked #47 overall), largely due to Cunningham and Pena. This could be a mismatch that Coach Kennedy will have to take steps to address.

Final Thoughts...
Both teams will likely utilize front court rotations dominated by 'tweeners -- Towson's entire contingent weighs in at less than 245 (Tony Durant) and heights ranging from 6-5 to 6-8. Villanova's regulars (Casiem Drummond excepted) have similar dimensions -- all fall in the 6-6 to 6-8 range, with Cunningham the "heavy weight" at 235lbs. Considering 2 point defense (and Nova's recent decent production from the frontcourt) coupled with offensive rebounding stats, suggest the frontcourt matchups could be very competitive. Both Cunningham and Pena have been especially vulnerable to fouls however, having played less than 25 minutes each in the Niagara game (and subsequently fouling out). Pena took an early exit from the Monmouth game. Villanova's second line (Drummond, Tchuisi and Clark) while contributors all so far, have proved less efficient & prolific at scoring, and less aggressive at rebounding. The Wildcats hold a distinct advantage in back court matchups. The Tigers have started freshman Troy Franklin for a reason. Josh Thornton is the best of the contingent, with Brian Morris searching for a role in the offense. This might be a good game for Reynolds and Fisher to regain some confidence.

The staff has maintained a 10 man rotation despite injuries to core members of the squad. They have doled out double digit minutes to a consistent group of 7-8 players (the starters plus 2-3 from Clark, Drummond, Redding and Tchuisi).

The game should be played for about 66 possessions; Villanova has shown little aptitude for controlling the pace this season, so they may be vulnerable to playing closer to Towson's preferred pace (Coach Kennedy likes to push the offense...the Tigers would probably prefer possessions in the 70s). According to adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies the Wildcats should take this game too, by a margin in the range of 20 or so points (likely a bit less).

Roster Notes...
Villanova --
1. Dwayne Anderson is due to have his ankle checked next week. He will not be available for the game.
2. Casiem Drummond, having served a one game suspension, is due to return for Townson, and should be available to play.
Towson --
1. This will be Junior Hairston's second game since returning from a 3 game suspension imposed by Coach Kennedy on 11/7/08 for violating team policies.
2. Freshman Ricardo Brown, a 6-5 forward out of Harrisburg, PA was suspended for violating team policies at the same time as Junior Hairston. Brown's suspension, for five games, is due to be lifted for Towson's last Philly Hoops Classic game on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monmouth Post Game: Keep Away Games

The first season my son played travel soccer we found ourselves somewhere in Central Jersey facing another first year travel team that was clearly struggling. Our guys took a 2-0 lead into the half, but came out on fire from the coach's halftime talk. They quickly score 4 more goals (as we could see the life drain from the faces of the other team's players...), and the coach pulled his forwards and then calling to the team, reversed his cap. The pace changed instantly. Our guys passed on open shots and instead swung the ball to the other side of the field (or "heeled" it to a trailing teammate). "What's going on?" I asked another parent. "Coach called keep away" he responded, "He doesn't want to run up the score. Not good for the kids and the league frowns on it"...I wasn't at the game last night, but I wonder if, at the 15 minute mark of the second half (about 25 minutes into the game...) if Coach Wright didn't reverse his cap (or do whatever he does to signal the 'Cats to ease up).

Looks like Tim over at Nova News Blog beat out the bloggers over a I Bleed Blue and White Blog in the race to post, with his "Nova Owns Monmouth" entry. The IBBW guys posted a good recap, "Villanova Blasts Monmouth". That was the only undetermined (and most competitive) element of this game after Nova won the tipoff. For the record, NN blew out IBBW by nearly 2 hours. And Tim provided another entertaining and informative summary/highlight of the game.

The Philadelphia media did an excellent job containing their enthusiasm for the Wildcats. "The only thing that really counted was, nobody else on Villanova's injury-plagued basketball team got hurt..." intoned Mike Kern over at the PDN. His recap, "Villanova cruises to healthy win over Monmouth", continued the "health" theme from the headline into the story's first paragraph. Kern provided a compact summary of the important points (including post game quotes). Worth a look. The Inky's Joe Juliano provided a more thoughtful piece in his "Villanova torches Monmouth". Juliano wove a series of post game quotes into the narrative of the recap, thus he provided context for a number of the staff's post game observations. The official website has the usual AP recap and post game notes (complements of Mike Sheridan?), along with the official box score. The breakdown by halves:

 Offense Defense

Coach Wasn't Exaggerating...About the Defense
"I thought we played a great first half, our best of the season...There was attention to detail. I would have liked to have seen us come out in the second half and keep our concentration longer..."
-- Jay Wright, 11/25/08 on the Monmouth game.

The Wildcats have posted better offensive numbers for three other halves this season (proof this schedule has no strength?), but for defense, the 40.7 defensive rating posted by the Wildcats (that means the Hawks scored on average, less than ½ point per possession), there has been none better, by far. This might be the best half of defense in the past 3 seasons. I have highlighted (in green...) those cells of interest. Hawk shooting collapsed (eFG% above) -- they managed a 3 point-like 5-21 on all FGAs that half. Note also the turnovers. As suggested in my preview, the Hawks are turnover prone, especially (though not exclusively) via steals. The table above notes Monmouth lost nearly 1 in 3 of their possessions in the first half, more than ½ of them (18.8 -- see Stl%) from steals. But the rebounding grabbed my attention. The 'Cats did not allow an offensive board in the first half. Considering how poorly the Hawks shot, that is a good many opportunities.

Notes & Observations
1. Shane Clark logged another very quiet, but very efficient game from the field. He maintains an eye-popping 81.2 eFG% and 1.67 PPWS. He was 4-4 (2-2, 2-2, 0-0) for 10 points against Monmouth. Clark's Poss% and Shot% point to a role player level involvement on offense (4th/5th option) going forward. Coming off the bench to inject some energy into the offense appears to be his niche this season.
2. Antonio Pena fouled out of his second consecutive game; troubling given the issues involving the other members of the front court.
3. Scottie and Corey Fisher had very inefficient nights again. Scottie was "saved by the line" versus Niagara, but this game exposed his recent poor run of field goal shooting. Scottie did get 3 steals, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Versus Niagara Fish was able to compensate by grabbing a few rebounds (6 actually), dishing 4 assists and forcing 3 steals. But there was little to point to offensively (or defensively) in this game.

Ref Notes
The crew, Ed Corbett, Joe Lindsey and Frank Scagliotta, was well behaved tonight. Thirty total fouls, with a 26 free throws, combined, taken by both teams is among the lowest in three seasons.

Roster Notes
1. Monmouth's Whitney Coleman was injured in the Hawk's first game (obviously DNP last night) and is out for the season. As the Hawks leading scorer and acknowledged leader going into the season, his loss is especially hard felt.
2. Hawk point guard James Hett twisted his ankle at the 6 minute mark of the first half and did not return.
3. Villanova center Casiem Drummond was DNP coach's decision. Drum was suspended for the game and did not dress nor sit with the team. He is due to return to practice Wednesday.
4. Wildcat wing Corey Stokes played with his thumb taped for the second straight game. It apparently did not bother him as much as he returned to the starting lineup and scored 18 on 6-13 shooting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Guest Post: Ray Floriani on St. Bonaventure - Rutgers Game

PISCATAWAY, NJ -- St.Bonaventure upset Rutgers 64-63 in the Garden State Classic on Sunday at the RAC and two stats stand out. During a pre-game courtside chat Rutgers assistant Darren Savino said that one of the priorities in facing St.Bonaventure was to limit turnovers. For the game Rutgers had 15 turnovers but a significant stat was 11 came the first half.

TO Rate1st HalfGame

The 21% figure is just over the 20% suggested limit but not excessive. The 36% is another story. Those 11 first half turnovers were crucial as they prevented Rutgers from opening a lead. Rutgers led 24-23 at the half. After the game Bonnie coach Mark Schmidt noted the longer his team ‘hung around’ the more their confidence grew.

Another notable stat was offensive rebounding percentage


That figure and difference for Bonaventure was huge, literally and figuratively. The Bonnies were expected to have trouble with the Scarlet Knight frontcourt but actually won the battle of the boards.

The Final numbers


Preview -- Monmouth

The Wildcats host the Monmouth University Hawks for the second preliminary round of The Philly Hoops Classic. The 'Cats and Hawks last met on St. Patrick's Day in 2006, an opening round game in the 2006 NCAAs which the Randy Foye led Villanova squad won by 13, 58-45. That game brought Villanova back to .500 in St. Patrick's Day games, (6-6). Villanova leads the series 5-0...

What Others Say...
... The Blue Ribbon Yearbook gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a C and the bench/depth a C+. Jeff over at the March Madness All Season Blog categorized Monmouth among the Northeast conference's "Rounding out the Pack" teams (his lowest designation) with this note:
...Monmouth does return four starters from last season, but the Hawks went just 7-24 overall. They do have a deep backcourt though, with all-conference candidate Whitney Coleman leading the way. Yaniv Simpson, James Hett and Alex Nunner also return on the perimeter. Nick DelTufo is the leader up front...
- 10/21/08, Northeast Conference Preview

The Blue Ribbon Yearbook picked the Hawks to finish #10 in the 11 member Northeast Conference (NEC). As the BRY noted, "...There is one big difference between those championship teams and the one [Head Coach Dave] Calloway takes into the 2008-09 season -- those teams were built to win right away while this year's group might be a year away from being a real contender..." The coaches of the NEC on the other hand, picked the Hawks to finish #9 in their NEC Media Day pre-season poll.

Why Everyone Believes...
...The Hawks return 4 of the 5 starters from last year's squad. Remember that despite last season's 7-24 record, head coach Dave Calloway has built a program that went to the NCAA tournament 3 of the past 6 seasons. Last season's leading scorer Jhamar Youngblood may have transferred out, but Coach Calloway believes that team chemistry this season will be better.

So Far...
Monmouth (NEC, 0-4, RPI #304) owns a 4 game losing streak to start this season. Their average margin of loss has been -16.5. Notable opponents include Rhode Island and Penn. Villanova puts a 3-0 record on the line -- their most recent effort, a 15 point win over Niagara (the first preliminary round of The Philly Hoops Classic), the most competitive game so far.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...The Hawks return veteran sophomore Nick DelTufo (6-8, 225lbs), who started 24 games last season, who shares center duties with senior Shawn Barlow (6-11 250lbs) and junior Dutch Gaitley (6-9 225lbs). Gaitley, a graduate of Archbishop Carroll, has started 3 of the Hawks' 4 games this season with DelTufo taking the other game (versus Rhode Island). The Hawks added freshmen Mike Myers-Kitt (6-7, 180lbs) out of Waterbury, Connecticut and Travis Taylor (6-8, 200lbs) out of Union, NJ. Coach Hollaway believes those two newcomers have added athleticism, and indeed Myers-Kitt has stated all 4 games so far, shooting 16-34, including 5-13 from behind the line.

The Wildcats will counter with Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, Casiem Drummond, Shane Clark and Frank Tchuisi. Cunningham and Pena, starters in all three games coming into the Monmouth game, will most likely be called on to start again. Both are taking steps to restore balance to the 'Cats offense. Cunningham has put up some impressive numbers to date. His offensive rating is 121.5 with a PPWS of 1.41. Dante put up a career high 31 points on his way to a double-double versus Fordham. Pena has scored an average 10.0 for the three games so far, based largely on an eFG% of 78.6. Both fouled out of the Wildcats' game against Niagara. Tchuisi, Clark and Drummond, though limited by lingering injuries, have provided good minutes in substitution for Dante and Antonio.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Recognized as the strongest element of the team going into the season, the Hawks return seniors Whitney Coleman (6-3, 190lbs) & Alex Nunner (6-3, 185lbs), junior Yaniv Simpson (6-4, 210lbs) and sophomores James Hett (5-10, 175lbs -- listed as 6-0 on Monmouth's web site...), Kevin Schafer (6-3, 190lbs) and RJ Rutledge (6-5, 175lbs). Coleman came out of the Florida International game at the 9 minute mark and has not appeared in another game. Offense from the back court comes from Rutledge (volume) and Nunner (efficiency).

Villanova offers Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher in the back court, with Corey Stokes on the wing. Reggie Redding plugs in anywhere, putting in 10-20 minutes per game as he provides a defensive stopper. Reggie has also had a couple of good offensive outings, most notably versus Niagara and earlier against Albany. Reynolds and Fisher have tended to be prolific shooters (for Scottie it is usually in the second half), but not especially efficient scorers.

Monmouth By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years Monmouth's RPI has ranged from the high 200s down to the low 100s, which reflects the Hawks' success in the NEC. So far this season Monmouth's pace 66.8, is a bit lower than the D1-wide pace team this season (69 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Monmouth Scout Page which ranks the Hawks #214 out of approx. 343). Comparing each team according to Dean Oliver's four factors...

When Monmouth has the ball...
Hawk O48.224.034.717.5
'Cat D44.923.830.836.3

Monmouth does not shoot the ball particularly well, ranked #177 right now. They are more adept at converting 2s, which could be a problem if 'Te and 'Tone are especially active. Monmouth is turnover prone (see TO% above), ranked #246 in that category. Villanova defense, by contrast, is good (not great though) at forcing turnovers. The 'Cats are ranked #93. This could be very challenging for the Hawks. A related stat not show here (but located on Nova & MU's Scouting Report provided at Ken Pomeroy's web site) is the Steal rate (Steals per 100 possessions...). Monmouth's offense loses possesions by steals at a 11.6% rate (ranked #246), while Villanova forces those steals at a 11.4% (ranked #100) rate. The players charged with guarding Rutledge and Myers-Keitt could have a banner night. Rebounding under Monmouth's hoop could be interesting too. Monmouth (see table above) has been about average at snagging their misses -- Taylor and Gaitley have been especially effective. Nova by contrast, has been pretty good at controlling their opponent's boards. Stokes, Redding, Pena and Drummond in particular have been strong on those defensive boards. The Drummond/Pena-Gaitley matchup may turn out to be a board battle (as opposed to a point scoring contest). Defense is a real point of vulnerability for Monmouth, as the table below suggests...

When Villanova has the ball...
'Cat O59.117.637.946.5
Hawk D56.517.337.139.3

Shot defense is a significant problem for the Hawks, with 2FGA defense being a touch worse than 3FGA defense. Could be a big night for the front court. Monmouth does not force turnovers, and Nova is not inclined to lose the ball too much. Rebounding however, is especially troubling for Monmouth. Monmouth's defensive rebounding (Offensive rebounding on the defensive Factors table), 37.1%, ranks the Hawks at #255, which suggests their opponents typically get second (& third?) chances to score for just under 4 in 10 misses -- about where Villanova expects to be. Dante and Antonio have been especially strong on the boards so far, so if they can stay out of foul trouble, one or both could be a very big night. A good many "signs" point to multiple opportunities for Nova to score.

Final Thoughts...
...A year after being widely regarded as the youthfully inexperienced team, the Wildcats find the tables turned. The Hawks look to their freshmen front court contingent, along with an outside shooter or two to put points on the board. Those players, however, are among the youngest on the floor. It seems a part of the Hawks' challenge at this point includes learning how to score and play consistently, but also (even more fundamentally...), how to win.

Coach Wright, despite injuries to a variety of players that makes his rotation decisions more a guessing game than game management, has managed to put 10 or more players on the floor while making sure 7-8 get double digits minutes. His decisions (and motivational methods?) have Reggie Redding suppling quality minutes as Clark and Anderson sort through injuries. And senior Frank Tchuisi, along with walk-ons Jason Colenda and Russell Wooten, have provided "Hippocratic Minutes" for a rotation that is prematurely shallow.

Comparing pace, offensive and defensive efficiencies suggests this game will probably be played at a pretty deliberate pace. But that should not stop Villanova from taking a win with a margin somewhere north of 25 points. The 'Cats, especially if Fisher and Reynolds can score efficiently, might break triple digits for the second time this season.

Roster Notes...
1. Dwayne Anderson is still out with a foot injury..
2. Shane Clark may not be at full strength yet. Shane had anthroscopic surgery ealier in the month.
3. Corey Stokes' hand was taped for the Niagara game, the result of a sprain to his thumb. No word on his recovery progress.

1. Whitney Coleman has not appeared since he was taken out of Monmouth's first game of the season. No official word on his status.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Ray's recap/analysis came with a note of apology that the game was not Big East-related, but he thought the outcome and circumstances worth noting. As I followed the game ticker online I smiled thinking of how Ben Howland was tearing out what little hair he had left trying to decode John Beilein's variation of 4 Out 1 In motion offense. Nova Nation faithful, along with every Big East fan not a Mountaineer, knows that feeling. Beilein coached teams are the very definition of a POT. As defined by John Gasaway, a POT (Perimeter Oriented Team -- a team that takes a higher percentage of their field goal attempts as 3s...) exhibits it's behaviors by....
1. Turning the ball over less.
2. Gathering fewer rebounds.
3. Getting to the line less.

And the Four Factors permutation of the box score shows the Michigan team hits all three points...


...well, almost. The stats shown are for the whole game, Michigan showed it's POTness in full form in the second half as it took 38.1% of it's FGAs as 3s. Which is actually a bit low for Beilein teams. Another, not often mentioned behavior of a POT is pace. West Virginia teams under Beilein were often among the lowest possession teams in the Big East, second only to the Princeton Offense Georgetown teams of John Thompson III. The pace, as calculated by Ray was about 59 possessions (average of Michigan and UCLA), fully 10 possessions lower than the current average for D1 this season. That's very deliberate.

The Wolverines did not fare as well against the Blue Devils on Friday night. But taking down the #4 ranked is a good sign that Beilein's system is taking hold in Ann Arbor. The Michigan -- Northwestern game should be...interesting.

The Texas Tech -- East Central (Oklahoma) game over at the Legends Classic also caught my attention. By way of explanation, East Central is a D2 member of the Lone Star Conference, and like a number of D2 teams, invited to fill out the field for a number of early season invitational tournaments. A basketball game where the combined point total is over 280 is bound to get a lot of attention. Texas Tech won that game 167-115, and a fellow Big East fan asked rhetorically "Does anyone play defense anymore?" It turns out Texas Tech does play defense, but in a game in which 280 points are scored, it is easy to lose perspective. Possession-based stats come in pretty handy for these situations. It turns out that the teams played each half for just under 60 possessions -- about 119 for the whole game. That means the Red Raiders held the Tigers to 0.96 points per possession, or a Defensive Rating (per Dean Oliver) of 96.3 for the entire game. That's a bit below the D1 average for this season of about 98.5. Texas Tech's Offensive Rating was 140.6, accounting for the large margin of victory (52 points).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Guest Contributor: Ray Floriani on UCLA-Michigan Game

NEW YORK CITY - A tale of two halves in last night’s Coaches vs. Cancer semifinal. Michigan surprised UCLA to advance to the final against duke. At the half John Beilein’s club trailed 29-23. The numbers:

That decisive second half

Another key factor was in the turnover category. Michigan only had 9 TOs against a quick Bruin defense. That’s a sterling 16% TO rate. The Bruins had 17 turnovers for a miserable 28% (sorry, no adjective better fits it) TO rate. The first half was even worse as the Bruins committed 11 miscues for a TO rate of 37%. Overall, not a great night for the PAC 10 schools hailing from the City of Angels. Number 4 UCLA wound up relegated to a 5 o’clock consolation meeting with Southern Illinois while cross town rival USC was upset by Seton Hall in Puerto Rico.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Niagara Post Game: November Games...

When the teams took the court for warm-ups the fans of Nova Nation could be forgiven for any confusion. The team with the scrappy but undersized scorer, the team with tall guy in the middle surrounded by four players at least a ½ foot shorter than he, the team with a 6-5 guard impersonating a power forward...was wearing purple unis. The Purple Eagles of Niagara were in the house...and they had come to play.

The box score reads "77-62", but the game was closer than the score suggests, the 'Cats, favored by nearly 20 when the line opened in Vegas, could not sustain a double digit lead until nearly 32 minutes into the game. The Let's Go Nova Blog was first to press with a place holder post that promised a story yesterday afternoon. Chris over at the I Bleed Blue and White Blog posted a summary that featured links to web-based recaps and box scores, and some personal reactions to the game and players. Tim over at the Nova News Blog has been first to post lately, but this time he was third. Tim provides a recap, discusses a number of the important elements of the game/win, and provides links to video and (again) the box score. I almost feel lax in providing only links to the "official box score", AP wire recap and Mike Sheridan's post game interviews located on the official web site. For those who cannot get enough, try Joe Juliano's piece, "Villanova Turns Back Gritty Niagara Team" from the Inky. And if you crave more, I guarantee Mike Kern's piece, "Villanova wears down scrappy Niagara for win" should just about do. That title alone leaves me with a "one bite too many" feeling.

First SecondGameFirst SecondGame

What I Expected to Find...
As I was putting together the game preview I realized Niagara's lack of front court size (combined with experience), Egemonye aside, would be a problem. Versus Towson, Coach Mihalich started Benn at the #4, suggesting that after a month of practice he realized a 6-5 Philly Guard was more suited for the rigors of the paint than his two veteran reserves and his three biggie recruits. That could be very good for the Wildcats. Cunningham and Pena were going to have a field day, or so I thought. I expected to find Dante's and Antoine's first half box scores to be stuffed plumper than a Christmas stocking, while Nova's back court had a few 3s mixed with a handful of 2s -- maybe 10 or so for the back court, and 12+ for the paint players (Villanova has been pretty consistent in their FGAs by half, staying mostly in the mid to upper 20s...). Back court might feel neglected, but they would be compensated with all of those assists. Rebounds? Of course the 'Cats would dominate on the boards, they had the height advantage. Bilal Benn and maybe Benson Egemonye with 2 (hopefully more...) fouls? Of course.

What I Actually Found...
The fouls, but little else, were there in the box score. Between them Cunningham and Pena had 3 FGAs out of a total of 24 taken. The 'Cats had 10 points in the paint (matching Niagara's total...). And 2 fouls apiece. 3 FGAs and 4 fouls...their playing time had been reduced to 24 minutes total (out of a possible 40 minutes...). Their substitutes, Shane Clark, Frank Tchuisi, Russell and Casiem Drummond logged a total of 16 minutes, with 0 FGAs. Villanova was up by 6 going into the locker room at the half, and looking at that box score it was almost a relief. Fans in attendance related that Villanova went up by 13 (27-14) at the 8:51 mark of the first half and Niagara went into a zone that seemed to stall out the Wildcat's offense. And it does seem that at that point through the end of the half Villanova was out scored 9-16. Of the last 8 FGAs taken (all by the guards) for the half 6 were 3FGAs (made 1) and 2 were 2FGAs (made 0). And the missing 6 points were scored at the free throw line.

Consistent with their first two games, the 'Cats registered second half improvements (the locker room adjustments are working...). Their higher offensive rating reflected more efficient field goal shooting (note the PPWS however declined half-over-half), significantly better rebounding, coupled with modest improvements on turnovers. And the Wildcats had significantly more free throw opportunities (though Pena and Cunningham were also DQ'ed by fouls). Kern was right, "Scrappy Niagara" was worn down.

Notes & Observations
1. This was the first game where Villanova's second half defensive numbers were better than their first half numbers...the locker room adjustments worked (and the team stayed focused?), as Niagara's rating declined from 91.3 to 82.0 half-over-half. Given that they actually improved in two of the four factors (turnovers and FTA/FGA -- and rather significantly at getting to the line...), the determining factor was rebounding. The Purple Eagles' field goal efficiency did decline very modestly from the first to the second half, but their offensive rebounding took a huge hit; and it showed in their rating. Niagara may rely on it more than folks realize.
2. Cunningham and Pena were too much for Niagara to handle as evidenced by their respective FTA/FGAs and eFG%s. For Dante the numbers were 100.0 and 200.0 -- he hit all of his FGAs (3-3) and took 6 free throws (200% of the number of field goal attempts...). Antonio's numbers were 100.0 and 300.0 -- he too was 100% on FGAs (2-2) and he took 300% more FTAs than FGAs (6 and 2), too bad the stripes took them out of the game so early.
3. Between them, Fisher, Redding and Reynolds took nearly 5 in 6 shots when they were on the court together. Reggie (Shot% was 24.5 -- well worth it too, given his PPWS was 1.28...) was the most efficient of the three...
Scottie Reynolds31.532.435.71.01
Corey Fisher25.627.837.50.90
Reggie Redding18.324.560.01.28

No question Redding benefited from being the third option on offense for much of the game. On a night when Stokes was nursing a minor injury and no one could find a big, Redding delivered.
4. Though less than 100%, Corey Stokes was nevertheless effective playing limited offensive role. He scored efficiently (his eFG% was 75.0, with a PPWS of 1.38).

Ref Notes
The crew, William Bush, John Cahill & Tim Higgins, continued the whistling exhibition begun by the Fordham game crew (Jeff Clark, Pat Driscoll & Earl Walton) on Monday night. Bush and Co. blew two more fouls total than Clark & Co. Monday. The game flow virtually stopped halfway through the second half as that crew called 81% of the game's fouls in the last 20 minutes of play. The four fouls in the last 75 seconds (Nova +10 at that point), appear to have been possession fouls (at least initially), as after Nova converted the FT, the Niagara wings launched 3s. The Purple Eagles did get to the line 8 more times than the Rams. Like the Rams they also took a technical. 50 fouls in the game ties the record from last season (no, not the same crew...), but is below some of the "Foul Line Parades" of the 2005-06 season.

Roster Notes -- Villanova
1. Dwayne Anderson did not play. Foot.
2. Casiem Drummond played 2 minutes and appeared (according to those in attendance...) to have difficulty with his foot. Especially troubling given the foul problems that beset Clark, Cunningham and Pena.
3. Corey Stokes played the game with his thumb wrapped. No doubt the reason for his yielding the starting spot to Reggie Redding. Stokes did log 27 minutes, scoring 8 points on 2-4 shooting.
4. Maurice Sutton was DNP. Redshirt, given the PT available by Cunningham and Pena's untimely fouls, seems a foregone conclusion now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Villanova and DePaul, Side by Side

I ran across a thread on one of the DePaul message boards today (the Demons Abyss Board on the Blue Demon Nation site actually...) that compared the performances of Villanova and DePaul. A rare opportunity made possible because both teams hosted the University of Albany just three days apart. Villanova opened their season Friday with a win over the Great Danes (78-60) at the Pavilion. DePaul followed suit by hosting (and beating) Albany 75-64 on Monday night. While comparing the scores, rebounds, steals, etc. is interesting, I wondered how the Wildcat and Demons offenses and defenses really stacked up, so I decided to compare each team's offense and defense when controlling for possessions. While the scoring differences were rather modest (+3 on offense, -4 on defense...), and one might think the two teams are "closer" on offense than defense, but controlling for possessions reveals a different picture...


It seems the offenses are farther apart than the score would suggest, but the defenses are nearly as efficient at limiting points (both are effective, but for different reasons...). Why the difference between "score" and "possession-based" comparisons? It begins with the pace itself. The Villanova/Albany game was played for 67.3 possessions while the DePaul/Albany game was played for 69.4 possessions. A modest difference (about 1 possession per half...) but the offensive and defensive stats that derive from that difference show how Villanova and DePaul are very different teams. The differences show on how they went about scoring points and how they prevented Albany from scoring.

On Offense...
Villanova's offensive rating -- 116.5 is decidedly more efficient than DePaul's 106.8. Both however are pretty good, taking account of the competition. Villanova shot very efficiently (60.8 eFG is very high...), but, by turning over more than 1 in 5 possessions (note the Stl% for both DePaul and Nova...the 'Cats were exploited by the Danes' guards...) Villanova negated part of the advantage they gained by their shot efficiency. Ironically the Demons and 'Cats rebounded their misses at exactly the same rate. They got to the line at nearly the same rate (FTA/FGA -- ok advantage DePaul) but the Wildcats converted at a much better rate than the Demons (compare FTM/FGA). I like the PPWS, it provides a nice snapshop of a team's field goal efficiency, so it complements the eFG% well. And in this case reinforces the difference between the 'Cats and Demons field goal efficiency.

On Defense...
Villanova's shot defense was less effective than DePaul's (confirmed by the PPWS -- see bottom of table), the Wildcats were able to limit the number of shots the Great Danes actually got (per possession...). Note the turnover rate was a bit better than DePaul's (Nova forced more turnovers per 100 possessions...), but the 'Cats significantly limited the number of second chance opportunities (note OR% is significantly less for Villanova vs DePaul -- a good number which suggests Albany snagged a lower percentage of their missed shots). Villanova's defense may have been more aggressive (note TO% and Stl% under the Defense column -- both are a bit better than DePaul's), but the clincher is Nova's Defensive FTA/FGA. Note it is considerably higher than DePaul's (35.3 vs 27.1). Villanova was "penalized" considerably less for the aggression however, note Albany's free throw conversion rate (FTM/FGA) was actually a bit less than it was against DePaul (17.6 vs 18.6).

Notes & Observations...
1. DePaul's PPWS, offensive and defensive was much closer, in a way reflecting the closeness of their final score with Albany.
2. Will Harris (Albany's transfer from Virginia) scored 13 points against Villanova and 11 against DePaul. Neither defense really stopped him (a good sign for the Danes...). Villanova however did shut down Albany's two upper classmen and starters, Mike Johnson and Brian Connelly. Those two (plus Harris) were expected to carry the offense this season. Villanova did not shut down the freshman Anthony Raffa however, nor sophomore wingman Tim Ambrose. Those two were able to convert shot attempts pretty efficiently, scoring 13 and 8 points respectively. DePaul did shut down Raffa and Ambrose, limiting those two to 4 points combined, but had problems with Johnson and sophomore transfer Louis Barraza (16 and 13 points respectively).
3. Jabari Currie did not turn the ball over at all, a huge step for the junior pg who has struggled with turnovers his entire carrier. If Currie indeed has that under control, expect DePaul's offense to operate far more efficiently than last season.
4. The Wildcats lost "focus" with less than 5 minutes to play. They spent a number of possessions trying to setup a baseline scoring opportunity for one of the reserve players. He did convert after the 3rd or 4th attempt.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Preview -- Niagara

The Wildcats welcome former player Bilal Benn back to the Mainline as Bilal leads the Purple Eagles of Niagara University into Philadelphia to play in The Philly Hoops Classic. Benn is one of several Purple Eagle players with ties to either Philadelphia or the Big East. Teammates Ty Lewis and Kashief Edwards both hail from metro Philadelphia. Lewis tore up the high school circuit as the pg for the Levitown's Truman HS. Rob Garrison of Niagara Falls, NY played two seasons for the Huskies of Conneticut University. This game is the first of two preliminary round games Villanova will play (both at the Pavilion) for The Philly Hoops Classic. The last two rounds of The Philly Hoops Classic will be played at the Palestra.

Coach Joe Mihalich brings Niagara to Philadelphia to renew a series first played back in 1923, and last played in 1976. The annual meetings during the late 1960's and early 1970's were particularly memorable to Nova alums of that era as the games were close and well fought (but largely won by the Wildcats). Villanova leads the series 19-10, though this game will hopefully be revenge for the last game in the series, a 62-51 loss at Niagara back in January of 1976...

What Others Say...
...The Blue Ribbon Yearbook gives the backcourt a B+, the frontcourt a B and the bench/depth a B. The March Madness All Season Blog listed Niagara as one of three contenders (the rank behind the favorite -- Siena) with these comments...
"...needs to replace Charron Fisher, who was second in the country in scoring and also averaged 10 rebounds per game. However, the Purple Eagles have the pieces to make run. Tyrone Lewis is an all-conference guard who can fill it up, while Anthony Nelson also returns as a starter. Transfers Rob Garrison (Connecticut) and Bilal Benn (Villanova) will make immediate impacts. Benson Egemonye is the leader up front..."
-- 10/24/08 Jeff MAAC Preview
Why Everyone Believes...
...Blue Ribbon projects Niagara to finish #4 in the MAAC, a conference of private universities (many Roman Catholic) located throughout Connecticu, New York State and New Jersey. The 2008 MAAC champion Siena, beat Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAAs last spring, before losing to Villanova in the second round.

So Far...
Niagara (MAAC, 1-0, RPI #1!) comes to the Pavilion off of a 79-62 home opening win over Towson (CAA, 1-1, #25 RPI), a Villanova opponent-to-be in the Philly Hoops Classic. The 'Cats and Purple Eagles share several common opponents this year (Towson, USF...), but Nova won't see them until later. This will be a good benchmark game for both squads. The 'Cats enter this game sporting a ?? record - their most recent effort against Fordham on Monday producing a ?? point decision in the ??'s favor.

Niagara By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years Niagara's RPI has widely ranged from a high of #95 (2007) to a low of #202 (2006), staying largely in the low 100s. Niagara played at a higher than average pace last season (71.6 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's 2008 Niagara Scout Page which ranks the Purple Eagles #26 out of approx. 341 - the year-end average D1 pace was 66.8). Niagara's field goal efficiency (eFG) is an excellent 60.4 (#15) while their defense for shots is a bit suspect (50.7). This season we only have the Towson game to consider. The numbers...

Niagara/Towson Four Factors
Niagara on...eFG%

Both teams had problems hitting their shots (see eFG%), but Niagara was able to compensate by rebounding their misses more efficiently, and on defense by forcing Towson turnovers. Not shown (but calculated...) Niagara stole 22.7% of Towson's possessions -- that suggests some very aggressive defense, largely complements of Lewis, Garrison and Benns. Lewis also blocked 8 shots...back court beware, this guy is very active on defense.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
The Purple Eagles return an experienced senior center in Benson Egemonye (6-10, 230lbs) and two forwards, Demetrius Williamson (6-6, 195lbs) and Kamau Gordon (6-7, 260lbs) who played reserve roles last season. The offense was generated by the back court, and (like Villanova's front courts of 2004-2007...) none of those three received more than "role-player" type possessons (<17% or so) nor were more than 4th/5th options for scoring (shot% <15.0%). These guys were recruited for their rebounding (Egemonye is very good on the offensive boards) and shot blocking (Pomeroy ranks both Egemonye and Williamson among his top 500 for 2008). Given the plethora of guards Coach Mihalich has to rely on, Egemonye may find himself on the floor with four other Eagles who are at least ½ a foot shorter than he. Add to the returning cohort redshirted Philadelphia native Kashief Edwards (6-6, 195lbs), Eric Williams (6-8, 225lbs) and Kuuk Kortekaas (6-11, 200lbs) a native of the Netherlands. Paul Kowalski, a 6-6 175lbs freshman is also listed on the roster. Egemonye was a starter against Towson, logging 22 minutes. Villanova transfer Bilal Benn (6-5, 205lbs) also started the Towson game, listed as a forward (Nova Nation fans may remember him better as a combo guard).

The Wildcats will counter with seniors Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark, both of whom have logged multiple starts over the past three seasons. Junior Casiem Drummond will most likely be available off the bench. Cunningham and sophomore Antonio Pena have started both games for the Wildcats this season, and have put on an offensive display unlike any Villanova fans have witnessed in nearly ten years. Cunningham has scored 44 points in the past two games, pulling in 17 rebounds (9 offensive boards...), while Pena has shot 75.0% from the field through 2 games, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 boards. Though Clark had arthroscopic surgery less than 2 weeks ago, he suited and played 16 minutes on Monday night. Expect Cunningham and Pena to start the game with Clark and Drummond seeing 15 or so minutes apiece. The staff has also used reserves senior Frank Tchuisi and junior walk-on Russell Wooten

Backcourt vs backcourt...
Coach Joe Mihalich found two good replacements for the graduated Charon Fisher, one of the Purple Eagles instant offense guys from last season when he brought in juniors transfers Bilal Benn (6-5, 205lbs) and Rob Garrison (6-2, 185lbs) last season. Both players logged their first two seasons of collegiate bball at Big East schools (Garrison -- Connecticut & Benn -- Villanova). They join sophomore point guard Anthony Nelson (6-1, 175lbs) and junior combo guard Tyrone Lewis (5-11, 180lbs) for form a MAAC version of a Four Guard Offense. Lewis took MAAC Player of the Week honors for his 20 point, 6 assist (8 block!) performance against Towson. Benn scored 6 points and grabbed 11 boards and blocked 2 shots, to complement Garrison's 14 point, 7 assist performance against Towson. Between them those four guards played about 75% of the available minutes, dishing 19 assists against 14 turnovers, while supplying 53 of Niagara's 79 points.

Villanova will counter with a few guards of their own. Scottie Reynolds will most likely man the point, with the two Coreys (Fisher and Stokes) playing off guard roles. The staff appears to have hopes that Fisher and Reynolds will work the ball in tandem, providing two simultaneous scoring/passing threats when the ball crosses center court. Corey Stokes has demonstrated amazing range on his shot. Anything he releases from inside the center court line has a chance to go in. Relief/reserves come in the form of junior Reggie Redding, a frequent starter last season who has seen court time since his freshman year. Walk-on Jason Colenda has appeared in both 2008-09 games, and will most likely log a few minutes versus the Purple Eagles...if the staff believes the game is well in hand.

Final Thoughts...
Niagara offers one of the better back courts that Villanova will see until Big East play. Bilal Benn or Ty Lewis will most likely take up residence inside of Scottie Reynold's jersey and give Villanova's most prolific scorer fits all night. Those who saw the Te-Tone combination work against Fordham (and Albany) know how Nova will counter. In truth I expect Villanova to struggle while they try to generate offense from their back court...until they figure out how to consistently get the ball into the paint (Dante and Antonio) or out to the wing (Corey S.). Niagara will counter with Ty Lewis, Philadelphia's favorite son who, along with fellow Philadelphian Benn, will be very motivated to put on a good exhibition. Ty Lewis and Rob Garrison between them took 2/3's of the Purple Eagles' 3FGAs, hitting at a very modest 25% rate. Those two are inclined to shoot, so the question is whether the 'Cats can force misses. If Nova's perimeter defense is leaky, the game could be close (and the outcome shocking?...not likely, but with the 3 point shot you just can't tell...).

Villanova's front court should dominate Egemonye and Benn (if, ala Randy Foye, he again plays the #4). And as good as Lewis, Garrison and Nelson were against Towson, Villanova's back court and wing should be able to handle Niagara's offense, and if patient, get some shots of their own. The Purple Eagles will give Villanova a better game than either Albany or Fordham (that team with Will Harris would be very dangerous...), but Tchuisi, Colenda and Wooten will most likely see some court time late in the second half.

Roster Notes...
Villanova -- Casiem Drummond's MRI was negative. He should be available for the game.
Shane Clark played 16 minutes vs Fordham. He should be available Wednesday.
Dwayne Anderson has a stress fracture & will not be available Wednesday.

Niagara -- No injury reports. Their entire roster should be available.