Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: The Value of Turnovers, Part 2

by Ray Floriani

TEANECK, NJ - How do you give up an effective field goal percentage of 60% and a two point field goal mark of 64% and win? Simple, force turnovers. Something Rhode Island (runners-up to Villanova in the Hoop Group Classic) did very well in a 95-80 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Tuesday.

The Final numbers:


The pace was not for the faint of heart. URI full court pressed and ran. When FDU broke the press they were just as willing to floor it offensively. The big difference here was the first half. Coach Jim Baron’s club led 47-31 at intermission. The second half Rhody built leads in the twenties. FDU would go on a run yet never seriously threaten. Again, FDU shot 60% (eFG%) the first half but the difference was those dreaded turnovers.



While the Knights shot well from the field, having 41% of your possessions end in turnovers accounted for their poor offensive efficiency. Final note:  Really admired URI’s ball movement and willingness to make that extra pass. Jimmy Baron is a scorer, is occasionally used as a decoy and is willing to feed open teammates. On the night URI had 24 assists on their 36 field goals. That means 67% of their field goals resulted from passes. Impressive indeed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Temple Post Game: Big 5 Champs

The game was not a thing of beauty. It was an ugly defensive struggle that Villanova had to gut out in the second half. Chris over at the IBBW Blog posted first with a recap and a handful of bullets like:
1. Villanova took it's 3rd Big 5 title in the last 4 years.
2. The 'Cats were down 3 at the half. Given the 17 point margin of victory, that means the Wildcats out scored the Owls by 20 in the last 20 minutes.
3. Corey Fisher has a breakout 2nd half, scoring 19 of his 23 points in that span.
4. Nova held Temple to 20 second half points. Sounds like a terrific defensive effort.
And a promise that Mark, who was at the Pavilion, would post his story later. The Official website has the usual AP wire story, Mike Sheridan's post game notes. And of course, the box score.

The breakdown by halves...

 Offense Defense

Two Good Halves...
Villanova hit their defensive rating in the first half, yet went into the locker room down by 3 -- it was that kind of night. Had the 'Cats hit their offensive rating for that half they would have been up by 6 at the mid point. The 'Cats held the Owls below their eFG% (45.5 vs 51.8), kept Temple from second chance points and kept the Owls off the line (14.3 vs 18.7 -- low to begin with...). their own offensive production however was well below expectations. Stan's comment posted to my preview suggested the 'Cats had yet to put 2 good halves (both sides of the ball) together this season. This was no exception as the 1st half offensive production was well below expectations. The half time adjustments worked for both sides of the ball. 59.7 is not the best defensive half the 'Cats have had this season, but it is the best they have had against a team with an RPI rank of #300 or worse. The overall defensive rating, 72.7 was however, the best effort this season. The 'Cats recovered their shooting touch in the second half (Fisher led the way, going 6-6, 3-3 and 5-6 from the line to log 19 points while Reynolds and Anderson went 3-4), posting an eFG% of 63.6 for the half. The Wildcat's turnover rate increased, but the combined effect of improved FTRate, eFG% and offensive rebounding rate (OR%) more than offset the turnovers and pushed Nova's offensive rating to 119.4, one of the better performances this season.

1. Corey Fisher logged an eye-popping offensive rating of 204.5 for this game. Fisher's PPWS (2.03) and eFG% (112.5) hint at his outstanding offensive performance. Fisher chipped in 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. In scoring 23 points in 28 minutes, Fisher posted one of the best all around performances for a Wildcat this season.
2. Antonio Pena had some very efficient scoring numbers too (eFG% -- 100.0), but without the production offered by Fisher. Pena did however own the defensive boards against Temple, grabbing 9 rebounds total, 6 under the Temple basket. On a night when neither team shined, Pena grabbed 19.4% of the available O boards, and 35.3% of the available D boards, very impressive numbers. This is the second consecutive impressive rebounding effort from Pena. As Dante has emerged as a scorer he has been less effective on the boards. Pena has assumed a good deal of that responsibility.
3. Based on Shot%, Cunningham appears to have been the 1st scoring option, with Reynolds taking seconds. Fisher, not Stokes however, stood in as the 3rd option. Reynolds and Redding between them had 5 assists, but none were to Fisher. The kid scored on his own.
4. Villanova has completed it's Big 5 slate, running the table even before any of the other 4 teams have managed to even play each other. Is this the quickest the Big 5 champion has been decided?

Ref Notes
Each member of the crew, Jim Burr, Bob Donato and Reggie Greenwood was working his 2nd Nova game of the season. And for each it was the second win. This was another loosely called game (not counting the 'T' hung on Coach Wright -- he must have said something really bad to get this crew fired up...), with Temple getting whistled for 17 fouls total, about 2.5 below the average for visitors this season. Nova went to the line 17 times, about 7 below average for the Pavilion (but within the standard deviation). This was the second technical of the season called on Villanova.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Side by Side -- Monroe & Samuels

As the OOC is winding down, and in the pause before the Big East regular season kicks off, I wanted to look at some the of the preseason "All" selections to see how they were doing. In prior seasons the ROY selections in particular have not lived up to expectations (at least not immediately -- see Paul Harris up in Syracuse, he is really doing well this season...). Like last season, two freshmen were tabbed to share the honor. By this time last season it looked as if Jonny Flynn would live up to the hype, but Donte Greene was not having the Melo-level season everyone had foreseen. This season's co-honorees, Greg Monroe of Georgetown and Samardo Samuels of Louisville appear well on their way to impact seasons. A possessions-based comparison...

[Note -- Samuels' stats from Pomeroy's Louisville Scouting Report, while Monroe's stats are from Hoya Prospectus Blog. Thanks to both]

While it appears as if Monroe has won the efficiency battle, I would argue that Samuels has played a much larger (and more important) role for the Cardinals. Sam-Sam has assumed a "star-level" role in Louisville's offense, as his 25.4 possession and 22.1 shot rates suggest. While defensive rebounding is pretty much a wash, Samuel's 12.4 offensive rebounding rate is good for a #152 ranking. Monroe on the other hand gets to the line for each FGA he takes. That's #1 in D1 ball, and very impressive. I doubt that the voters who award the honors at season's end will be as amenable to splitting the award as the preseason voters. But going into the Big East season it looks like they are (still) dead even.

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: A Four Factors Look at NJIT

by Ray Floriani

NEWARK, NJ - I covered the Wagner-NJIT game today and the first thing I did on getting game stats was to figure out NJIT’s four factors. The Highlanders entered the contest 0-11, riding a 44 game losing streak. I wanted to see if the four factors could tell me where they were weak and severe their deficiencies might be. And to see if there were any silver linings. The four factors:


*NJIT averages 65 possessions.

Notes : The Highlanders really struggle on offense. The culprits are their turnover rate (about 30%) and their effective field goal percentage (about 36%). Simply, NJIT struggles to make shots on those possessions that do not expire with them giving the ball away. The offensive rebounding difference is not extreme. NJIT has some height and a few players who can penetrate. Still, I’m not surprised the free throw rate has a disparity. Playing catch up every nights necessitates a number of three point attempts, and less chances to get to the charity stripe. Pleasantly surprised by their silver lining, defense. The 96 defensive efficiency is not bad and the 25% opposing TO rate is good. NJIT does defend.

On this afternoon, a 58-48 loss, the Highlanders trailed by a dozen at the half, but managed to take a one point lead with just under 10 minutes to play. Wagner responded with a run and victory number one still has to wait. Say this, the tempo free stats nor any other stats can measure how hard they play. Coach Jim Engles is enthusiastic and upbeat and it carries onto the court. Down ten with a minute to go, NJIT had a player dive across the floor for a loose ball. The effort is there. Now if a few shots would fall.


* 69 possessions

"You have to be a coach to appreciate the marvelous job Jim (Enlges) has done. They will win a few games this year. I’m just glad it wasn’t against us."
-- Wagner Coach Mike Deane

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eye Candy From 08/12/27

Perpetual Tryouts?
Reviewing the South Florida box scores over the past two seasons reminded me of baseball spring training. This season alone Coach Heath has employed 9 different starting lineups for the Bulls' first twelve games. His rotation ranged from 8 (3 games, Virginia, UCF & UAB, relatively close losses all) to 12 (5 consecutive games, from Niagara to Oral Roberts), though double digit minutes are typically given to only 7 - 9 of those players. Heath has tackled the additional challenge of integrating 2 transfers into the USF rotation in the runnup to the Big East season. The shuffling rotation has to confuse the players; it sure has confused me.

The Accidental Co-ROY
Which brings me to Dominique Jones, the quite unexpected Big East Co-ROY from the 2007-08 season. Largely off the grid for the Media Day both he and Pitt's DeJuan Blair made their noise during Pitt's and USF's OOC slate. If Blair had the benefit of a national media debut versus Duke in December, Jones was quietly racking up ROY of the Week kudos from the Big East front office. Running against previous trends that largely discounted outstanding performances from freshmen of lower division teams, Jones' string of 20+ and 30+ point games could not be ignored. Benefitting from the spring tryout atmosphere last season, Jones appears to be the victim this season. Heath moved him out of the starting lineup at one point to make room for Georgia transfer Mike Mercer, an experiment that lasted two games; indeed after pulling down consecutive starts and logging 25+ minutes in several games that followed, Mercer has disappeared altogether in the Bulls' last two games (injury? Coach's decision?). Jones meanwhile has slowly re-emerged, and his performance against Iona last night suggests he may be back for the season. The box scores said a lot, but the table below ought highlight how remarkable his shooting performance really was:


Jones played 95% of the minutes at his position, which means his possession/shot percentages are very close to the team-wide stats. Jones took fully 1/3 of the Bulls' FGAs, and (no wonder they continued to feed him...) hit at a far better rate than his teammates. His PPWS of 1.98 suggests he was close to scoring the equivalent of a 2FGM every time he released an FGA. He was 7-9 from beyond the arc, and 5-6 from the line, numbers well above his season-long averages.

Preview -- Temple

The Wildcats and Owls square off in the game that may well crown the winner (and runner up) of the 2009 City Series, even before the 2009 year begins. The 'Cats enter the game with a 3-0 record in the City Series, and this will be Temple's first game in the series this season. How times have changed. Villanova holds a ??-?? edge in a series that goes back to 1922. This is the most competitive (for Villanova anyway) of the City Series rivalries...

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B+, the frontcourt a B and the bench/depth a B-. ESPN Magazine projected Temple as the #2 finisher in the A10 conference this season. College ChalkTalk Blog's preview (a well written piece by Andrew Green), projected the Owls to finish #2 in the A10 & earn their second consecutive bid to the NCAAs...

So Far...
...Temple (A10, 5-5, RPI #31) comes into the game off a road loss (76-71) to Long Beach State. The folks in Kingston, on Rose Hill, Hawk Hill and over on West Olney will no doubt watch the game with great interest as they too will face the Owls in the weeks and months to come. But to date anyway, the Owls and Wildcats share no common opponents. Notable wins for Temple include Tennessee (SEC, 8-2, RPI #29) at home and Penn State (Big Ten, 11-2, RPI #147) on the road, while good losses include Clemson (ACC, 12-0, RPI #48) and Miami(OH) (MAC, 6-4, RPI #20). Other games of interest include a road loss to Kansas (Big 12, 8-3, RPI #123) and a win over near RPI poison Lafayette (Pat, 2-8, RPI #287). The 'Cats enter this game sporting a 10-1 record - their most recent effort against Navy produced an underwhelming 15 point victory.

Frontcourt vs. frontcourt...
Coach Dunphy has experimented with his front court line up from virtually the first regular season game. He was gone from a 4 guard starting lineup with either sophomore Lavoy Allen (6-9, 225lbs) or senior Sergio Olmos (7-0, 220lbs) as the sole front court player (not counting senior Dionte Christmas...). Coach Dunphy has also started freshman Michael Eric (6-11, 225lbs) once or twice. Lately the Owls have started Olmos and one of Eric or Allen, the other logging at least double digit minutes. Aside from senior Dionte Christmas, who at 6-5 and 205 pounds can be classified as a big guard or a small forward, the Owls use their other front court contingent, senior Rafael DeLeon (6-5, 200lbs), sophomore Craig Williams (6-9, 240lbs) and the freshmen Scootie Randall (6-6, 205lbs) and Dante Wooten (6-8, 215lbs), very little. The Owls' offense comes from their back court , but if the ball goes inside, look for either Olmos or Allen to get involved. Neither is a "go-to/star" level offensive threat, but either can serve as the 3rd or 4th option on offense.

The Wildcats will most likely start Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena and Dwayne Anderson as their front court complement. Cunningham has had a terrific year so far, scoring his 5th double-double of the season against Navy. If the 'Cats are determined to test the Owls interior defense, look for low post passes to Dante (and to a lesser degree Antonio) early and often. Pena's performances so far have been inconsistent. He had good games early on against Fordham, Towson and Rhody, but the Texas game seemed to put him into a scoring slump. He did recover his rebounding against Navy, scooping up 12 boards. Dwayne Anderson was inserted into the starting line up for the St. Joseph's game and has started every since. His performances have shown all of the earmarks of a player recovering his feel for the game. Against Navy Anderson scored 4 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes of play. Look for Shane Clark to put in at least 10 minutes, and Frank Tchuisi will log some time should the 'Cats get up early and maintain control throughout.

Backcourt vs. backcourt...
The Owls will most likely start 3 from the cohort of seniors Dionte Christmas (6-5, 205lbs) & Semaj Inge (6-4, 190lbs) and juniors Ryan Brooks (6-4, 200lbs) & Louis Guzman (6-3, 200lbs) -- with Brooks, Christmas and Inge the heavy favorites. Inge and Guzman will (occasionally) get their scoring opportunities, but those two spend a good deal of their touches setting up Brooks and especially Christmas. Dionte Christmas is the star of this squad, as reflected by his possessions (27.9) and shooting (30.8) stats. Brooks, with a Poss% of 17.2 and Shot% of 20.3, has demonstrated his value as a very efficient 2nd option. Look for Christmas (and to a lesser degree) Brooks to take their shots from the outside. Christmas in particular has taken 6 of every 10 FGAs from beyond the arc. And why not, hitting at a 41.7% rate generates as many points as he would get hitting 62.6% of his 2s. Freshmen Ramone Moore (6-4, 180lbs) and TJ DiLeo (6-2, 195lbs) have also drawn minutes. Though Coach Dunphy has called DiLeo's number more consistently in the last three games, either may draw between 7 and 20 minutes.

Villanova will most likely start Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes in back court. While Corey Fisher drew some starts early, though he has not started since Dwayne Anderson finished his rehab. Look for Fisher and Reggie Redding to get court time. If Christmas hits early and often, the staff may turn to Redding to shut him down. Scottie has had two pretty good games back-to-back in La Salle and Navy. Against La Salle he formed a very effective triple scoring threat with the two Coreys.

Temple By the Numbers...
The last 5 years include both the end of the Chaney Era and the beginning of the Dunphy Era, and the RPI wind-down and subsequent build-up reflects the trend. Temple's RPI at the end of the Chaney Era hovered in the #74 - #98 range, logical given the school's membership in the A10 and Chaney's scheduling habits. The changeover period saw Temple's RPI drop (drastically) to #182 before recovering to #47 (closer to it's historic standing) last season. Currently the Owls are ranked #31. Dunphy runs a low possession offense (66.4 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Temple Scout Page which ranks the Owls #215 out of approx. 343 -- the current average for pace is 67.7) that employs traditional motion principles to find an open shooter. Temple's offensive efficiency, at 108.1 adjusted (that's 1.08 points per possession, good for a #71 rank), suggests they have been largely successful at finding their shot. Defense has been the problem for the Owls. A defensive efficiency of 97.0 (adjusted, their raw efficiency, at 102.4 suggests they have problems against some of the better offensive teams in D1) ranks them at #71, a better than average defensive squad. A look at Oliver's four factors provides insight on some of the Owls strengths and weaknesses...

When Temple has the ball...
Owl O51.821.532.718.7
Wildcat D44.923.328.735.4

The Owls' greatest virtue on offense is their shooting efficiency (at 51.8, good for a ranking of #80, the upper quarter of D1 teams). The key is their accuracy on three point shooting, at 36.8%, good for an #81 ranking (equivalent to shooting 55.2% from inside the arc). Their 49.9% 2 point accuracy suggests they score with about the same proficiency from inside as outside the arc. Remember that Navy's outside shooting boosted the Middies' eFG% for their game to 50.0%, a disappointing night for Nova's 3 point defense. The Owls, while apparently not as accurate as Navy, nevertheless have long range shooters and work them within Coach Dunphy's scheme. Look for another test of Villanova's 3 point defense. The Owls are a bit "below average" on turnovers and offensive boards (they turn the ball over and don't get O boards...). Oh, and they don't get to the line much. The Owls do tend to convert free throws when they get to the line however, so the key will be to keep them off the line. Defensively Nova tends to force turnovers (especially in the first half) and control the boards, so if Villanova can perform to their numbers against Temple, the Owls may become frustrated by lack of scoring opportunities. A four factors look at the opposite side of the ball...

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O51.717.637.831.7
Owl D50.219.430.434.5

Nova scores with efficiency on the inside (due in no small part to Dante Cunningham), while Temple has been very average defending the 2, and porous at stopping the 3. This appears to be the Owls' greatest defensive weakness, so a good shooting night for the 'Cats, particularly Stokes from the outside, Cunningham from the inside and Reynolds from (about...) anywhere should bode well for Villanova. Temple is not aggressive on the ball, so turnovers, should they occur, will most likely be on the Wildcat ball handlers. The boards under Villanova's basket, however, should be a battleground, look for an Olmos/Allen versus Cunningham/Pena/Anderson matchup. If the Wildcat's shots are not dropping, second chance points will bececome very important. Boxing out Dante could be critical, as he accounts for many of the Wildcat's offensive boards. Pomeroy's Scout Page also suggests the Owls are prone to foul. It is not clear from the data however, if those are aggressive fouls or change of possession fouls.

...Villanova had difficulty controlling Navy's Chris Harris from beyond the arc. Dionte Christmas leads an upperclassmen-dominated back court that should be even more effective from the outside. Look for a stern test of Nova's 3 point defense. Again. Hopefully the 'Cats will do better this time. Temple's own problems defending the 3 pose an interesting problem for Villanova's staff. Do they play Reggie Redding to shut down Christmas? Or do they play Corey Stokes in the hope of winning a shootout? Control of the offensive boards and the ability to generate second chance points may dictate the choices made on the outside.

The Temple staff appear to favor either an eight or ten man rotation. Close games tend to favor the shallower bench (much like Villanova), with the longer bench coming into play when the first eight have foul troubles (or the game gets away from them). Villanova fans tend to see more players when the game is under control. If this becomes an inside-outside scoring game for Villanova (Cunningham and Reynolds), someone else in the rotation (Anderson? Stokes? Clark?) will have to step up to maintain the cushion. If the game remains close, Temple has the horses to take the game.

According to Pomeoy's calculations, the game should be played for about 64 possessions (lower than usual for the 'Cats), with Villanova taking a 12 point decision.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Eye Candy

I was looking through the box scores (Big East mostly...) last night, and when I paused over the West Virginia-Radford game and later the DePaul-Creighton game, I thought back to a trailer Ken Pomeroy used to include at the end of his blog posts. He called that section "Line o' the Night" (or something to that effect). there were a few individual efforts that really caught my eye...

DePaul's Scoring Machine...
Dar Tucker has been tearing it up this season, and as I noted in an earlier post, that may not always be a good thing. After that post DePaul ran off 3 consecutive wins (versus Liberty, Southern and St. Louis). For those wins Tucker managed to keep his shot% at 30% or (better...) less, even as his eFG% and PPWS were high. All of which suggested he was scoring efficiently within DePaul's offense. Last night Tucker seemed to again lose that internal tug-of-war, even as the Blue Demons were losing to the Blue Jays of Creighton.


Tucker hit 3-8 from the 3, 9-14 from inside the arc. Tucker scored 42.7% of the Demons points. The next three highest scorers, Mac Koshwal (more on him later), Will Walker and Jabari Currie scored a combined 35 points on 13-30 shooting. They had a combined eFG% of 46.7 and a PPWS of 0.95. The Demons will have to provide Tucker better offensive support than that. The DePaul website provided some background/context for Tucker's achievement.

DePaul's Rebounding Machine
In the same Creighton game sophomore center/forward Mac Koshwal, in addition to shooting second high points for the Blue Demons, also managed to pull in 22 rebounds. The AD's official story noted that Koshwal's effort was "...tied for the fifth-best single game effort in DePaul history and he [Koshwal] is one of five Blue Demons to grab 22 or more caroms in a game...". The numbers...


An offensive rebounding rate (OR%) of 9.0 is great (Top 500), while the best is 25.0. As for Koshwal's defensive rebounding rate (DR%), the best (season long stats) is 35.0. Koshwal is currently ranked #37 on a season long defensive rebounding rate of 25.0. Tucker and Koshwal would be headliners on a higher ranked Big East team, though their individual numbers would most likely not be as strong.

Last, But Hardly Least...
West Virginia met Radford last night in Morgantown for one of those forgettable mid-major matchups that only happens because the NCAA won't outlaw guarantee games (and some teams consistently sellout their arenas). The game junior guard Alex Ruoff played however is not forgettable. The numbers...


When I calculated Ruoff's ORtg (adjusted points/adjusted possessions) I got the kind of number that causes State Troopers to smack their radar guns once or twice when they get a similarly off the scale reading. In my (or more properly, Alex's) case it was 201.0. That is 50-70 points above a "normal" outrageous performance. Most impressive however may be that Ruoff, a junior who was originally paired with fellow junior Da'Sean Butler as freshman phenoms during John Beilein's last season in Morgantown, but toiled in Joe Alexander's shadow last season, scored well within the Mountaineer system. Note his Poss% and Shot% numbers are consistent with a starter/go-to guy, but far below Dar Tucker's numbers (above). Ruoff has teammates who will step up and have outstanding nights of their own in the days and weeks to come. Can the same be said of Tucker's teammates (Koshwal excepted)?

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: The Value of Turnovers

JERSEY CITY, NJ - The most intriguing exhibits of tempo free analysis appear in places you may least expect them. Case in point, the non-conference meeting of FDU and St.Peter’s at the latter’s Yanitelli Center last night.

FDU had the better eFG Pct 53% to 43% and blocked 14 shots for an outstanding 2 point field goal block rate of 28%. Still, the visiting Green Knights lost. Why ? Simply turnovers. The rundown:

St. Peter's696311014%

FDU coach Tom Green noted his club’s 20 turnovers meant 15 less field goal attempts for his team. Closely related to FDU’s woes with the basketball was the proficiency St.Peter’s had in caring, only 9 turnovers, for the ball. Despite the figures and loss, the personable Green was not at a loss for words saying, "they say it is better to give than to receive and tonight we played the role of a generous Santa."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Navy Post Game: Fall Finals?

The Nova Blogosphere may be a bit slow to register reactions to Villanova's 10 point win over Navy at the Pavilion, but Mark over at IBBW has posted a brief post game analysis. Mike Sheridan logged his Nova Notebook Post Game over at the Official Website, where they have , of course, also posted box score. Good reads all 'round.

The breakdown by halves...

 Offense Defense

The first half was classic Villanova defense -- forced turnovers (33.7%), middling rebounding (35.3%), thefts (15.6%), blocks (14.8%) and little fouling (0.0%). And just a bit late shot defense (51.9%). The culprit is 3, like the classic Villanova defense, point shot defense -- 51.9%. To their credit, the 'Cats shut the inside down tight (or the eFG% for the first would have been far, far worse...and the half-time lead a good deal smaller, if there had been one at all). If the 'Cats allowed the Middies to hit 8 of 14 from beyond the arc, they stifled them to the tune of 2-13 inside the arc. The second half numbers were similar, though not as depressing. Navy, well stocked with upperclassmen guards, with a motion offense which tries to free up outside shooters, was a good test of Villanova's newly discovered shot defense. If this was a fall semester final, the Wildcat defense performed well below expectations. The problems defending the shot were exposed a bit in the second half numbers as the Midshipmen took better care of the ball (and got after their misses on the offensive glass). Despite the fact that their field goal efficiency dropped (after all, they only hit 6 of 14 beyond the arc...), fewer turnovers and more trips to the free throw line translated into more points per possession. The Wildcats still had the more efficient offense in the second half, but (as the point difference suggested...) the Middies narrowed that gap rather significantly.

As noted in the Navy preview, both teams held their opponents to virtually identical 44.4% eFG%, while scoring more efficiently. Navy's defense did hold Villanova to about 44% (44.7 actually), but Nova's shot defense held the Middies to 50.0% for the game. Not good.

1. Dante Cunningham scored his 5th double-double of the season. This is Dante's 9th career double-double. Dante has logged over 900 points over the course of his career.
2. Scottie, Dante and Corey Stokes again posed the triple threat on offense, as each accounted for nearly 30% of the team's possessions and shots when they were on the court. Scottie and Dante were efficient against Navy, but Stokes struggled a bit.
3. Antonio Pena may have struggled on offense, but the sophomore forward was a monster in the paint. Antonio pulled down over 16% of the offensive boards when he was in the game, but even more impressive, he pulled down over 33% of the defensive boards when he was in the game. That is over 1 in 3 defensive boards...remember he was competing with nine other players for those loose balls.

Ref Notes
This is the first game for Clarence Armstrong, though both John Cahill and Wally Rutecki have another game from this season under their (collective) belts. The crew did blow more whistles than the 'Cats have heard lately (past 3 games?), but the game was not "exceptional" for the amount of fouls called. Neither coach (if the Navy announcing crew read expressions and coach-referee exchanges accurately...) was particularly happy with Wally Rutecki, but is anyone...really?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Is Duke Really that Good?

By Ray Floriani

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - College basketball returned to the Izod Center on Saturday for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Unfortunately, the much anticipated Duke-Xavier matchup was a one sided affair as the Blue Devils controlled from the initial possession. A look at the halftime breakdown shows the disparity. Little wonder it was a 31 (55-24) point game at intermission.


Those efficiency numbers are astronomically good (for Duke) and bad (for Xavier). Other numbers that stood out were effective FG percentage and turnovers per 100 possessions (TO Rate).

TeameFG%TO Rate

Xavier had more turnovers (10) than field goals (9). Simply, Sean Miller?s club had a half to forget.

As the final totals in the 82-64 contest show, Xavier had a better offensive second half:

TeamPoss.Eff.eFG%TO Rate

That 121 efficiency rating surrendered by Xavier stands out as an extreme. Especially when you consider Xavier entered the contest with a gaudy defensive efficiency of 86. The 16% turnover rate turned in by Duke was outstanding. But on this day virtually everything was outstanding for coach K's squad.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Preview -- Navy

Villanova hosts former assistant (now the Naval Academy's Head basketball Coach) Billy Lange and his Midshipmen at the Pavilion Monday evening. This will be the second meeting in three seasons after a hiatus of nearly 58 years. The Wildcats won that last meeting by 9 points, 70-61, but Navy leads the series 3-5. Maybe the 'Cats can bring the series a bit closer to .500 this season...

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a A, the frontcourt a C+ and the bench/depth a B+. The BRY predicts the Middies will finish 3rd in the Patriot League this season. Marty Leon over at the Rush the Court Blog predicted a 2nd place finish for Navy with the note that the Middies return nine of their top 10 scorers. Leon also identified senior guard Kaleo Kina as one of the Patriot Leagues "best returnees"...

So Far...
Navy (Patriot League, 8-3, RPI #209) comes to the Mainline off a lose Saturday to Canisius (MAAC, 4-7, RPI #150). The Middies best wins this season include a 12 point win over St. Francis(NY) (NEC, 3-6, RPI #144) and a 3 point win over Mount St. Mary's (NEC, 3-7, RPI #139). The Midshipmen's two "best losses" were a gutty 9 point loss to the Va Tech Hokies (ACC, 7-4, RPI #88) and the aforementioned 5 point loss to the Golden Griffens of Canisius. Villanova and Navy both played Towson and Penn so far this year:


Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Coach Lange used a traditional starting lineup in the beginning of the season, putting sophomore Mark Veazey (6-10, 230lbs) in the middle and flanking him with senior forward Adam Teague (6-8, 225lbs). The past few games he has started 4 guards and brought Teague in for about 30 minutes. Sophomore Jeremy Wilson (6-10, 235lbs), junior T.J. Topercer (6-8, 227lbs) and senior Brian Richards (6-9, 235lbs) see limited minutes, not in every game. Those three contribute mostly through rebounding.

Villanova will start Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena, as they have in their previous eleven games. Dwayne Anderson has started the last two games, now that his rehabilitation is completed. Frank Tchuisi may also see minutes if the game is in hand, or someone is in foul trouble.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Navy has started four guards in their previous three games. The quartet, senior Kaleo Kina (6-4, 210lbs), junior Chris Harris (6-2, 185lbs) and sophomores Romeo Garcia (6-4, 207lbs) and O.J. Avworo (6-0, 195lbs), have, over the past four games, collectively taken over 70% of the minutes available (Kina alone accounts for 90% of the minutes at a single guard position). If they are on the floor together, assume that at least 4 of every 5 shots taken will come from one of those four (most often from Kina). Collectively they account for 2/3 of all shots taken by the team over the past 4 games. Coach Lange has a mid-major version of Nova's four guard offense from 2006, with Kaleo Kina as their Randy Foye. Kina has become the focus of the offense too, taking over 1 in 3 of the Middies' FGAs when he is on the floor. The most prolific outside shoot however is the junior guard Chris Harris, with forward Adam Teague and Kina a distant 2nd and 3rd. Navy will take nearly 4 in 10 FGAs from beyond the arc, so Harris and Kina (and Teague) will shoot early and often.

Villanova has started Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes in every game this season. Expect that to continue. For the past two games senior Dwayne Anderson has started over sophomore Corey Fisher. Fisher and junior Reggie Redding will rotate in within the first 5 - 8 minutes of the first half. Both will take doule digit minutes, with Fisher playing some #1 and #2, while Redding covers everything from #1 to #4 (but mostly #2 & #3). Scottie remains the 1st option on offense, with Corey Stokes adding a nice complement from the outside. Both Coreys, Stokes and Fisher had very efficient games against La Salle. Hopefully this game will continue the trend.

Navy By the Numbers...
The Middies' RPI has fluctuated in a range of low 200s to low 300s over the past 5 years. Navy's offense fits the perimeter-oriented (POT) style outlined by John Gasaway in his previous life as The Big Ten Wonk. The Midshipmen prefer a higher possession style game, averaging about 71.5 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's Navy Scout Page which ranks them #51 out of approx. 343 (the current average D1 pace is 67.8). Navy's offense has struggled so far, netting about 0.966 points per possession (96.6 ORtg), good for a #225 ranking. Their defense, giving up (adjusted) about 0.994 (99.4 DRtg -- (ranked #158) is closer to (and a bit better than...) the D1 average of 99.7. Looking below the surface numbers, at Oliver's Four Factor, we find...

When Navy has the ball...

Middie O47.920.031.129.1
Wildcat D44.423.128.935.5

At 47.9 the Midshipmen are below the D1 average on field goal efficiency, yet their 3FGM conversion rate, at 32.0%, is the reason their ranking is so low (#195). The balance of Navy's offensive factors (TO%, OR% and FTA/FGA) all fit Gasaway's POT profile. Given the Wildcat's 3 point shot defense (currently at 31.2%, but historically much more porous...) should receive a good test Monday evening. The rebounding matchup should be very interesting. Nova is outstanding at defending the boards, while Navy has struggled (or does not consider them an offensive priority...). Look for a big defensive rebounding night, the type of conditions (other factors considered) that could spell another double-double night for Dante Cunningham. Again owing to Navy's POT profile, a Villanova defensive weakness, putting opposing players on the charity stripe, may not be a factor in this game. Looking at the other half of the matchups...

When Villanova has the ball...

Wildcat O52.418.137.432.1
Middie D44.419.832.344.2

Defensive eFG% is the same for both teams -- I will be interested to see how each team actually shoots and defends. The 'Cats have been effective from the floor, the rise in eFG% in part the result of integrating the front court (ie Dante Cunningham) into the offense. Navy is an average defensive rebounding team, while Nova has been pretty good on the offensive boards over the course of the season, though they have fallen off the in the past 3 games. Navy's tendency to foul (FTA/FGA -- the Middies are ranked #296) is a weakness that may well be tracable to their smaller (less athletic?) line up. Navy's guard quartet tends to collect a lot of whistles, with Garcia and Harris the two most likely to sit via DQs. Villanova's larger front court and more athletic wings ought to be able to exploit their counterparts. The 'Cats routinely look for 20% or more of their points from the line.

...While the Navy staff has favored a four guard starting line up lately, I wonder if they will go with Teague at the #4 to counter Villanova's size, and sit one of Harris, Garcia (most likely?) or Avworo for the first few minutes. Should they go with the smaller line up will Villanova counter by pairing Clark, Anderson and/or Redding with Cunningham/Pena (rather than playing Te and Tone in tandem).

Pomeroy projects the teams to get about 69 possessions apiece (above the average for D1), with Nova notching a 22 point decision. That margin of victory seems high, especially given Coach Lange's history on the Villanova staff, that the players and staff continue to mull and develop their roles within the offensive and defensive framework and the staff's tendency to tinker and adjust playing time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Villanova and Connecticut, Side by Side

I had not planned to do another third party comparison this season, but after going through Villanova's numbers from the La Salle game (and reflecting on some comments from Nova Nation fans about the Connecticut-La Salle game...), I decided to see if another side-by-side comparison using Oliver's four factors could provide some insight into the state of the two programs (not to mention what it might tell us about fellow member of the Big 5, La Salle itself). Similar to the shared Albany experience, La Salle played these two Big East teams within a relatively short period of time. Unlike Albany, the Explorers played the Huskies on a neutral court while Villanova traveled to La Salle for their game.

Common OpponentLa Salle 

What We Already Knew (more or less)...
Connecticut has an outstanding offense. The Huskies have established a dominant offensive presence by excelling at each of Oliver's four factors -- they efficiently convert FGAs into points, either by hitting their FGAs (taken mostly by inside the 3 point line), or by getting to the free throw line, they dominate the offensive boards, and take care to conclude most of their possessions with an FGA (they don't turn the ball over very much). Indeed Connecticut, according to Ken Pomeroy's Connecticut Scouting Report is either very good (ranked #25-#75) or elite (#1-#25) in virtually all 4 phases. So their offensive rating versus La Salle (126.5) comes as no surprise. As I went down the check list however, not every element was consistent with what I would expect to find in a game where the Huskies racked up an ORtg North of 120.0. In particular the rate at which they controlled the offensive boards was very average -- the D1 average is 33.3 ("median" team is Toledo at 33.5) -- and well below their season long number (38.2). Villanova's own OR%, 22.2, was also strangely low. Credit the Explorer forwards (and preparation) that they held two good rebounding teams to numbers well off their season long numbers. I was a bit surprised to see a 10.1% theft rate, high I thought, given the strong ball handling reputations of AJ Price and Kimba Walker (they were credited with 7 of Connecticut's 12 turnovers...). Villanova's eFG% was a pleasant surprise, suggesting one of the Wildcat's better shooting efforts. Indeed, a check of the boxscore confirmed that Villanova's "second wave" (Corey Fisher, Reggie Redding and Shane Clark) had an efficient 10-17 from the floor. I wouldn't blame Corey Stokes if he tried to take the Gola Arena rims with him when he exited the La Salle facility -- he shot 6-10 (4-7 in 3FGAs) from the floor and hit both free throw attempts.

What We Discovered...
The average offensive/defensive efficiency rating across D1 is 99.6. Connecticut's defensive rating (DRtg) is 86.7 (that's the raw rating...). Connecticut's DRtg versus La Salle was 115.1 -- that would go down as a loss for most teams on most nights. Against the Explorers, the Huskies were saved by their offense. Blame the lapse on the Huskies' shot defense, an area which UConn normally performs very well. UConn's season long eFG% is 42.6 (good for a #26 ranking), while against La Salle they gave up FGMs at a 52.9% (eFG%) rate. The Explorer's three high (by volume...) scorers, Rodney Green (no shock there), Ruben Guillandeaux and Vernon Goodridge hit a combined 23-41 (2-5 3FGAs) for an overall FGM% of 56.1% and an eFG% of 58.5%. Shockingly prolific and efficient. La Salle's three high scorers versus Villanova, Rodney Green (ah that name again...), Kimmani Barrett and Yves Mbala shot 15-34 (3-10 3FGAs) for an overall FGM% of 44.1% and an eFG% of 48.5% -- still pretty high, but consider these were the three most prolific (and efficient for that matter -- La Salle's eFG% overall was 41.1%). That trio's output represented 67% of La Salle's total point production. Versus Connecticut, La Salle's three most prolific scorers posted about 61% of the Explorer's point production. Goodridge and Guillandeaux incidentally, shot a combined 2-9. Shot defense, normally identified as an area of weakness, was a high point for Nova's defense. Rebounding by contrast was, on defense as well, a disappointing part of Villanova's game.

On virtually any night, a D1 team that posts Connecticut's offensive rating would win. And on most nights (something on the order of 70% of the time...) a team that posted UConn's 115.1 as a defensive rating would lose (the exception of course is the night the offense posts a 127...). Villanova's numbers are almost as reliable. Virtually any team that limits it's opponent to 0.873 points per possession (a defensive rating of 87.3) would win, hands down (Rutgers excepted...). 103.6 is, frankly, a bit more problematic. Given that the D1 efficiency is 99.6 (see above) however, the chances are that more likely than not, that offensive efficiency will result in a win. Very average rebounding, coupled with inconsistent shot defense points to the need for Stanley Robinson (and Ator Majok, if he get qualified). Connecticut's three guard approach, drawn from a pool of AJ Price, Kemba Walker, Jerome Dyson and Craig Austrie (and others...), supplemented by Gavin Edwards, is not enough when confronted with active wings like Barrett, Green and Mbala.

Miscellaneous Notes...
1. I did a double take when I saw that Villanova's defense recorded a 10.7% block rate while UConn only registered an 8.8% rate. Surprising, but a quirk of the statistical method used. Both teams had an identical number of blocks (7), but the Explorers took 56 FGAs against Nova and 68 versus UConn. Given that Green and Guillandeaux took most of the shots, Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut's most prolific shot blocker, had fewer opportunities, his chances coming most likely against Goodridge. I also suspect the La Salle wings and back court players did not venture into the lane much. Steal rates are subject to different numbers of possessions for each game. La Salle had, versus Villanova, the same number of steals as had the Huskies versus the Explorers. Yet each shows a different Stl%. Fewer possessions (or FGAs), the more "valuable/significant" the steal or block.
2. Villanova's inability to get to the line is a little troubling. Nova's offense has typically looked to the free throw line for at least 20% of it's points. In Big East & post season play that rate rises to 23%-26%. Versus La Salle points at the line contributed 11% of the points the 'Cats posted. Blame an away court (and visitor status) perhaps, but Villanova's penetrating offense relies on the line to supply points if the guards don't convert. Consider Marquette's Wesley Matthews against Tennessee (surely you saw the game...). Matthews scored 30 points total, but earned 15 of them at the line (15-18).
3. Vernon Goodridge still confuses Connecticut. Their official box score lists the 6-9, 230 pound junior as a guard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is It Getting Hot in Here?

An August 31 poll of "Big East Coaches on the Hot Seat" would have awarded the dubious distinction  of hottest seat to Seton Hall's Bobby Gonzalez or St. John's Norm Roberts. Maybe Jerry Wainwright, HC for the DePaul Blue Demons these past four seasons would have managed a distant third, but Roberts and Gonzalez would have finished well ahead of their 14 colleagues.

Roberts' rebuilding program seemed to have stalled somewhere around 13th place in the conference. The St. John's admins no doubt understood going in they were taking a career assistant coach. The long learning curve for the mechanics of program management may have been anticipated, but losing 14 players to transfer and academic attrition had to be more than they bargained for. And Roberts, by reputation a successful recruiter, had, in 4 seasons in Queens, struck out on an uncomfortably high number of NYC area recruits. The Daily News' 2008-09 season preview invested most of the ink on an inventory of St. John's shortcomings.

His brash personality and short temper have made Bobby Gonzalez a marked man throughout his career, but his stint at Seton Hall has been turbulent even by Gonzo's standards. The Pirates last game of the 2008 season was a fiasco in virtually every phase of the program. The loss (to arch rival Rutgers) was nearly overshadowed by the Pirate coach's antics during and after the game. His theatrics during the game, the yelling match with Seton Hall AD Joe Quinlan and the anti-referee diatribe for the media in the post game interview earned him a perfect 0-4 on the day. Among the SHU alums, players, media and administrators there are no neutral parties; Gonzo is either loved (and defended) or hated (and attacked or mocked). Or so it seemed going into the season.

At the 1/3 mark of the season (according to games played anyway...) it seems those two have escaped the lime light for now. The Pirates are 8-1 with notable wins over USC and Virginia Tech. Their loss, a 14 point stinker at the hands of Memphis does not hurt much. And the Johnnies are 7-1 with a notable win over Cornell, the presumed Ivy League favorite. Winning can do that for a program. Which brings me to the two new candidates for the Big East Hot Seat -- DePaul's Jerry Wainwright and Rutgers' Fred Hill.

What November Gives, December Takes Away...
The Blue Demons ran through November racking up a 4-0 record. The Blue Demons under Wainwright are notorious for dropping a "What the Heck?!" game or two early in the season, but their 0-4 run to open December shows signs of being more serious than an inconsistent game (or two...). Road losses to California and UCLA might be understandable. But Northwestern and Morgan State on consecutive outings? This is Wainwright's second consecutive loss to Northwestern, one of the few accomplishments Northwestern HC Bill Carmody can point to in his tenure. Unfortunately Carmody does not sign Wainwright's pay checks. So what has happened to the Blue Demons? Taking a possessions-based look at the Demons' offense and defense by month gave me a few clues. On offense for example...
OffenseBy Month...
2/3 FGA64.766.2

The very modest improvement in turover rates (TO%) was completely obscured by the massive decrease in the Demon's offensive rating -- that is a 16 point decrease nearly matched by the 12 point decrease in PPWS, the 16 point decrease in FT Rate and 12 point decrease in offensive rebounding. That is a very large step back for a four game span. I do not recall the Demons being a particularly good rebounding team, so I wondered if the decreasing efficiency on the boards was the opposition perhaps. UCLA and California, two Pac-10 teams with good (but not great...) defensive rebounding nevertheless crushed DePaul on their offensive boards, holding the Blue Demons to less than 19% in their games. Morgan State, a terrible rebounding team kept DePaul to about their November average, while Northwestern, a middling defensive rebounding team in both the Big Ten and D1 (ranked #105) held DePaul to just about NU's season-long rebounding rate...not a good sign. DePaul finished the 2007-08 season ranked #168 with an OR% of 32.9 -- they are on track to finish worse this season. The defensive numbers are even more troubling...

DefenseBy Month...
2/3 FGA67.369.3

Rebounding improved and the Demons managed to do a better job of keeping their opponents off the free throw line. But everything else is a disaster. The 17 point decline in DePaul's DRtg is particularly striking given that only UCLA, among the 4 opponents, has a Top 25 ranking. DePaul's opponents shifted even more of their FGAs to the interior because it was working so well. In November DePaul's opponents hit 45.5% of their 2FGAs, but in December, more often than not, they could not miss from the inside, hitting 54.5% of their FGAs.

The losing streak appears to be getting to the some of the Blue Demon players. Sophomore Dar Tucker for example has tried several times to take over the game, taking >37.8%, "Star-level" percentages, of the shots when he is on the court. Tucker's efficiencies have declined as defenses are able to concentrate numbers on him when he has the ball in his hands. Senior Jabari Currie, junior Will Walker and the sophomores Mac Koshwal and Mike Bizoukas have not been consistent enough on offense to provide the extra scoring. But no matter how effective they prove to be, DePaul's defense is too porous to give their offense a chance. The staff has begun to juggle the starting lineup to possibly change the chemistry. For their season debut against Albany, Coach Wainwright started a back court trio of senior Jabari Currie (at point) alongside Will Walker and Dar Tucker (wings, Walker the #2 & Tucker the #3). Against Northwestern he started freshman Jeremiah Kelly and brought Currie in from the bench. While for the UCLA game Dar Tucker moved back to the bench, giving way to Kelly again. Both Currie & Tucker came off of the bench much of last season, so both are accustomed to watching for a bit before they play.

With Liberty coming to town Wednesday, the DePaul staff has an opportunity to tinker with playing times and roles a bit more. Liberty is a terrible rebounding team (on both ends of the floor...), but the key stat is 2 point shooting. Liberty is very good (#43 in D1), hitting 52.9% of their attempts. If the Demons are making progress they will shut down Liberty's scorers (a guard trio that includes Seth Curry, Adam Smith and Keith Ohman). Putting the Demon's defense in order quickly would seem to be a priority, because things can get very ugly very quickly once Big East conference play commences.

The Burden of Expectations...
The powers that be in Piscataway knew when they hired him that Fred Hill had no head coaching experience. The problem it seemed was lack of talent, specifically New Jersey talent. They hired the best recruiter in New Jersey to recruit New Jersey. And they got what they paid for. Rutgers has put together the best roster of any college in New Jersey (composed largely of homegrown talent). And one of the worst two year records in the history of the program, 21-39 (.350). The Scarlet Knight faithful suffered (and argued) their way through those seasons, and with the incoming class far more skilled than any of the last four classes, seemed ready to put aside savoring moral victories in favor of celebrating scoreboard victories. Rutgers started well, matching last season's 3-0 start before dropping an overtime game to St. Bonaventure at the RAC. The loss to Lehigh though, also at the RAC, started the old bench coach versus recruiter argument again. The December 6 loss to Binghamton out of the American East conference, also at the RAC, however brought an explosion of fan discontent.

Rutgers record is 7-3 with bottom feeders Bryant and NJIT due in before the Knights head down to Carolina to close out their 3 game set with the Tar Heels (and their OOC season). Two more chances to run up the record before they open the Big East season against Pittsburgh. Look for Rutgers to have a 9-4 record when they host the Panthers on New Year's Eve.

In an earlier time and with a less talented team, I would expect the fan-base to accept one or two (or even no...) more conference wins over last season's 3 win total. But more is expected of this season's squad. Will fewer than 5 Big East wins keep the fans happy? Coach Hill's mentor, Robert Mulcahey, was fired last week, ostensibly over finances related to the football program. I wonder if the next AD will make cleaning up the football fund (and expanding the stadium) his (or her) first priority.

Monday, December 15, 2008

La Salle Post Game: Big 5 Wars

Three quarters of the Big 5 schedule in the books before fall semester exams even begin, with a 3-0 record to boot. Times have changed...the ebb and flow of the City Series fueled basketball-related discussions through January and into February. Now the conversations of January and February for all of the Big 5 teams speculates on prospects within each member's conference, and to life after conference play ends. The scoring differential of this latest Big 5 tilt, if a bit low, nevertheless fit the models, but I confess I was concerned about this outcome given the challenge of playing their third game in six days, and how the team struggled against the 'Horns and Hawks. The breakdown by halves...

OpponentLa Salle 
 Offense Defense

One Step Forward, One Step Back...
The Wildcats, according to the breakdown, came out like gangbusters in the first half. Note the team's shooting efficiency (eFG%) and turnover rate (TORate). Those are very encouraging numbers, but the ORtg was fairly modest. A hint at the causes can be found in the PPWS, a very modest 1.03 and in the offensive rebounding, a troubling 20.0. If the first half's offensive numbers were a mixed bag, the defensive numbers looked very good. The Explorers were shooting poorly (eFG%), not getting to their offensive rebounds (OR%) and not, despite holding home team status, getting to the line (FTA/FGA). With an 11 point lead going into half-time, the 'Cats seemed poised to roll.

The second half, by the numbers, turned out to be more competitive. While the 'Cats converted their FGAs even more efficiently than in the first half (see eFG% & PPWS above), their offensive rating declined! The culprits? A combination it seems, of turnovers (TORate was up) and offensive rebounds (OR% declined). The Explorers managed to get 3 more steals in the second half (2 to Kamini Barrett).

Half-time Adjustments?...Loss of Interest?...Both?...Neither?
Villanova took a 10 point lead into the locker room at the half, but managed to add an additional point to the winning margin over the course of the seconds half. The modest decline in offensive efficiency was secondary to the larger decline in defensive efficiency. Defense has been the straw that stirs Villanova's drink in the Jay Wright Era, the declines therefore, are worth a lingering look. Did Coach Giannini make a few fantastic adjustments to the Explorer's offense, or did the Wildcats, comfortably ahead, facing an opponent that appeared demoralized, and feeling the effects of the third game in six days, drifted a bit and lose focus? How to tell? LaSalle's significant improvement on their offensive boards was most likely the product of a coaching adjustment (and pointed reminders to the frontcourt? Vernon Goodridge grabbed the only Explorer OBoard in the first half; ). Virtually every front court player had at least one rebound in the second half. The La Salle players also did a better job limiting Wildcat offensive boards. The Explorers may have gotten to the line a bit less (proportioanate to their FGAs...), but they converted more efficiently when they got there. That again cannot be laid at the Wildcat's feet. The modest progress on shot defense (eFG%) requires more explanation. The 'Cats shut down scoring opportunities inside the arc. La Salle's 2FGM% split was 52.9/32.0, a significant half-over-half improvement most likely due to coaching adjustments. It did not come without a price though, as the Explorer's 3FGM% increased to 50.0 in the second half. The eFG% change registered as an improvement because La Salle took few attempts from beyond the arc. The strongest evidence of waning Wildcat interest was the decline in free throw shooting efficiency. Given that the scoring difference was +16 in Nova's favor at the 10:00 mark of the second half, and that it dropped to single digits only once (with 0:22 on the clock...), individual Wildcats most likely felt little urgency in making their FTAs.

1. Logging a career high six assists might lead one to mistake forward Antonio Pena for a point guard. Antonio was not efficient from the field, but he did a much better job from the line, going 3-4. He also garnered 6 rebounds (2-4-6), blocked a shot and stole the ball once. Finding a way to be useful when the hand is not hot. Pena has had problems lately, but this will not count as a bad one.
2. Scottie was the #1 option on offense, but Cunningham, Fisher and Stokes were largely tied for the #2 option. Stokes scored a game high 18 points on 6-10 (4-7, 2-3, 2-2) shooting. The scoring distribution is encouraging, largely what many anticipated when the Wildcats start to fire on all cylinders. Reynolds and Stokes provided the outside scoring punch, going 7-12 (.583) from the arc. Inside scoring efficiency came from Fisher and Cunningham. Those two went a combined 8-16 (.500) on 2s.
3. Shane Clark logged another efficient performnance coming off the bench. He logged a 75.0 eFG% on 3-4 shooting. He also snagged 7 rebounds, all defensive boards, to go with a steal and a block. Clark may well have found his role going forward.

Ref Notes
Les Jones, Joe Lindsay and Jamie Luckie ran the crew for this game. For Jones and Luckie this was the second Villanova game (and the second in three games) that they officiated. This one had a better outcome for the 'Cats. Maybe, under the glare of national media they felt the need to be more visible (or maybe Mike Wood is a control freak...), but this crew took a more "let 'em play" approach to the game. There were 46 fouls and 49 free throws in Madison Square Garden last week, and 31 fouls, 34 FTAs in the Gola Arena. The 'Cats did not get the majority of calls, but since this was a road game that is hardly unexpected. The free throw percentage (about 57.1%) was well below the team's season numbers (about %), but given the decline occured in the second half, when the 'Cats had the game in hand, provides more evidence the 'Cats had simply lost focus.

Roster Notes -- Villanova
Another pain-free game. Best news this week. Maurice Sutton was DNP again, virtually certain to red shirt this season.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Preview -- La Salle

The Explorers are next up in the Wildcat's Big 5 round robin. The Villanova-La Salle series dates back to 1934, with the Wildcats holding a 31-24 edge. Villanova's second most competitive series among the Big 5 schools, has lately become an extended Wildcat run. The 'Cats are currently on a 6 game run versus the Explorers, which is one more than the 5 game losing streak the Explorers put on the Wildcats back in the 1970s. Can Villanova keep the run going...

What Others Say...
... Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B-, the frontcourt a B+ and the bench/depth a B. The A10's conference blog, College Chalk Talk projected La Salle to finish 7th in their conference this season. The preview, authored by frequent guest contributor Ray Floriani, provides an in depth rundown of the roster. With an eye to the Villanova - La Salle clash on Sunday, Ray published an interview with Explorer Coach John Giannini just last week. The BRY projected a 5th place finish...

So Far...
...La Salle (A10, 4-3, RPI #135) has more good losses -- a 4 point loss to Florida State (ACC 8-1 RPI #9) and an 8 point loss to Connecticut (BE, 9-0, RPI #12) for example -- than good wins. Their best win so far is a 6 point road win over the Hartford Hawks (NEC, 3-7, RPI #231).

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...La Salle will start a duo of juniors, Kimini Barrett (6-6, 190lbs) and Yves Mekongo Mbala (6-7, 210lbs) along side sophomore Jerrell Williams (6-8, 210lbs) in their forward spots. Note that like Villanova the Explorers do have a true #5; they will play one of Williams or junior Vernon Goodridge (6-9, 230lbs) in the paint. Barrett and Mbala equally inclined to shoot and take an occasional 3FGA. According to the preview posted on La Salle's official website, Barrett has had the hot hand lately, scoring double digit points in 5 of the Explorer's games this season. Coach Giannini has rounded out the Explorer's rotation with Jerrell's twin brother Terrell (6-8, 210lbs) and senior Paul Johnson (6-6, 195lbs).

Villanova will likely start Cunningham, Pena and Anderson, the three they started for the St. Joseph's game on Thursday. Anderson is working himself back into game shape, having sat out the Wildcats first six games and logging only 27 minutes in 2 appearances in the 3 games that preceded his start against St. Joseph's. Dante has recorded 2 double-doubles this season. Shane Clark has not started this season, but has posted an efficient 54.1% eFG averaging 17.1 minutes per game. He has not however established himself as more than the 4th option on offense. Corey Stokes can slide over to the #3, while Frank Tchuisi has logged minutes against some of the weaker opponents earlier in the season.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...Expect the Explorers to go with their veteran backcourt juniors, high scoring Rodney Green (6-5, 190lbs) and pg Ruben Guillandeaux (6-5, 195lbs). Green and Guillandeaux have logged a large chunk of the available time so far, Green playing nearly 90% of the available minutes at the #2. Guillandeaux has taken nearly 64.3% of the available minutes in the other backcourt spot. The balance of the rotation/minutes have gone to senior Darryl Partin (6-4, 180lbs) or (more likely...) one of the wing forwards (Barrett or Johnson). The La Salle preview projects the game as a Green/Reynolds shootout, but clearly the forwards Barrett and Mbala are capable of picking up the slack should Green falter.

The Wildcats will start Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes, with Reynolds playing the #1. The rotation will bring in Fisher and Redding early and often, most likely rotating one of the forwards (Pena? Anderson?) to give Villanova a smaller and quicker lineup.

La Salle By the Numbers...
The Explorer program's RPI has cycled from the low 100s to the mid 200s over the past five seasons. There is a good deal of optimism that they are in a up swing now. La Salle is a lower than average pace team this season (66.1 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's La Salle Scout Page which ranks the Explorers #232 out of approx. 343 - the current average for pace is 67.8). A Four Factors matchup of La Salle's offense and Nova's defense looks like this...
When La Salle has the ball...
Explorer O48.722.136.930.8
Wildcat D44.823.228.335.5

The matchup of note will be on the boards. La Salle makes up for anemic shooting efficiency by rebounding misses. Defensive rebounding has been a Villanova strength however. Nova guards, notably Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, have been more aggressive on the boards this season (with a few exceptions). La Salle's shot efficiency (eFG%) is ranked a very average (for D1) #164 right now. Nova's shot defense is ranked #58. The Explorer's defense versus Nova's offense looks like this...

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O52.218.839.433.9
Explorer D47.016.830.635.8

Several stats on this end provide hints on how this game could go. Nova's 53.3 eFG% looks impressive (it is, the 'Cats are ranked #54...) but know that the 'Cats have posted eFGs of 46 and 42 in three of their last four games. The efficiency is inflated by opponents like Houston Baptist. But the Explorers are not especially good at defending the field goal -- they are ranked #119, with 3 point defense (36.7%, #255) the culprit...a big game for Corey Stokes perhaps? Punching the ball inside to Cunningham may not be the recipe for success at the Gola Arena as La Salle has been very good at defending the 2FGA (43.6%, #68). Both teams are aggressive on the boards. The 'Cats typically get about 40% of their misses (39.4, #34), while the Explorers are noted for denying opponents those boards (30.6, #90). Dante has been the leader at grabbing offensive boards, as he goes, so go the 'Cats. Villanova has been pretty good at getting to the line (evidenced by their effort against St. Joseph's last week), while La Salle has been very average (ranked #160) at keeping opponents off the line.

...The numbers favor Villanova, but losing to Texas, followed by a very close scrape with St. Joseph's and now going on the road (to the Gola Arena on the La Salle campus) to play the Explorers may be enough to throw the 'Cats off. Two losses within a 6 day period would be a blow to the team's expectations for the season, but very possible given the difficulties handling the 'Horns and Hawks.

It is a bit telling that Coach Wright settled into a 9 man rotation against the Texas, with only seven players getting ten or more minutes. In the closely contested St. Josesph's game (with the Wildcats behind for much of both halves), the staff shortened the bench to 8 players, giving each more than 10 minutes. That is a Big East/post season rotation. Those eight players (Anderson, Clark, Fisher, Pena, Redding, Reynolds and Stokes) drew minutes ranging from 36 (Reynolds) down to 13 (Redding), the staff clearly showing Clark, Fisher and Redding as a "second line". If the game is competitive throughout, expect (as in the St. Joseph's game) to see a good deal of Reynolds, Cunningham and Anderson. If the game is well under control (which would be a surprise to me) expect to see more of Clark and Redding, with spot duty to Tchuisi and walk-on Jason Colenda.

Both teams tend to play below the D1 average pace (67.8), so expect this to be another deliberate game, with scores in the 50s-70s. Crunching offensive/defensive ratings I get a win for the Wildcats with the margin in the low-mid double digits. But this is the Big 5...