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.


Nikoli09 said...

Without question, the most professional villanova blog out there. (VUhoops is also good though)

Consistently the most comprehensive analysis on the interwebs.

I absolutely love this blog.

Brian Lerner said...

Hear, hear.

This is an excellently article, not just the analysis but also the writing.

Anonymous said...

Great read!!!

Norman Rose said...

As always, a great read, I'll be posting this on St John's message boards.

I don't know that St. John's wins have kept Norm Roberts off of the hot seat, but in terms of wins and losses, he has a bit of a cushion going into league play.

Fred Hill, with the AD firing, is in some hot hot water. I have seen DePaul in person, and they are just completely bad.

greyCat said...

I appreciate the comments, thanks.

I enjoy reading all of the Nova Nation blogs Nikoli09, each takes a different approach to covering the team, and I enjoy the different attitudes and opinions.

imo The Hoya Prospectus is the gold standard for quantitative analysis for a Big East team. If you enjoy stats you need to see how CO_Hoya does it. Would like to see a site that does it for the entire Big East conference. We need to sit down with Henry Sugar over at Cracked Sidewalks and see how we can make that happen...

Granted the Red Storm has a number of cupcakes on their OOC schedule, but they have beaten quite a few of those teams rather soundly. 8-1 is the strongest start in a while. The Miami game on 12/27 will be a good benchmark. Miami is well regarded (fringe Top 25 team) and the Johnnies dropped a 19 point road game to the 'Canes last season.

DePaul is puzzling. I would like to see them in person (not that I am a fan of watching bad basketball...) to get a better sense of what that team actually does on offense. On paper Koshwal, Tucker and Walker are good enough (statistically) to form a nucleus. I thought Jeremiah Kelly might be Wainwright's long sought-for point guard, but results to date (few starts, looks like Currie is handling the rock) say no, not yet. I wonder if team morale is starting to influence their play.