Saturday, January 31, 2009

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: The Battle of New Jersey

by Ray Floriani

NEWARK, NJ - It was two straight for Seton Hall as they defeated Rutgers 70-67 at the Prudential Center. The Hall is 2-6 in Big East play while Rutgers fell to 0-8. Of great significance on this evening was the in state ‘bragging rights’ for victorious Seton Hall. The game is more than just the performance of an outstanding individual. Still, on this night the game featured Mike Rosario of Rutgers and Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell, two outstanding Big East talents, consistently delivered for their respective teams. Hazell was a game high scorer while Rosario paced Rutgers. The following is a breakdown using the NBA efficiency calculation ,PTS + REB + A + S + BLK - (missed FG + TO + missed FT)and dividing it by minutes played. At the Half:

Mike Rosairo114-611.579
Jeremy Hazell73-89.450

For the Game:

Mike Rosario257-1817.447
Jeremy Hazell3510-1737.949

Hazell, hit his first three shots of the second half and had a twenty minutes virtually worthy of display in Springfield.

The overall numbers:

Seton Hall661071740

Both teams took relatively good care of the ball as evidenced by turnover rate. Seton Hall had a slight rebounding edge which thrilled Bobby Gonzalez because the Hall had been getting beat considerably on the boards in Big East play. Neither team shot very well as both had an effective field goal percentage of 46%.

Coaches’ points : Fred Hill of Rutgers felt the last three minutes of the first half and first three of the second were decisive. "That’s the way it is with us," he said. "We compete but those short stretches where there is a drop off kill us.".

Gonzalez noted how crucial the schedule is. "After beating Georgetown we would have been in for a let down game," he said. "As it turned out we had Rutgers and there was no way our kids wouldn’t be ready to play."

Coaching Carousal -- Another One Falls in the SEC

Mark Gottfried's sudden (and less-than-voluntary?) resignation may have initiated a general house cleaning in the SEC as Georgia's AD Damon Evans fired Bulldog head coach Dennis Felton Thursday morning, 8 hours after the Bulldogs' 26 loss to Billy Donovan's Florida team. Felton, the Dean of SEC basketball coaches, dodged the bullet last spring when Georgia unexpectedly ran the table at the SEC post season tournament and earned the conference's automatic bid to the NCAAs. A rocky 9-11 start, exacerbated by an 0-5 start to the SEC season, triggered the mid-season ouster. Interesting that the local press actually (as exemplied by Terence Moore of the Atlanta Journal and Constituion) applauded the move, rather than question the timing and example set by the AD. I guess that is the way they do things in the SEC.

Felton is the 6th SEC head coach to resign under duress or be fired outright since the Florida Gators won the National Championship in 2007. That is half of the conference's coaches. In less than three seasons. And if Pat Forde (see below) is to be believed, there may be another SEC ouster at season's end.

While ESPN's Pat Forde focused part of his latest Forde's Minutes column on nine other head coaches (four in the Big East alone...) who are under increased pressure this season, he appears to have ignored, aside from the mention of Felton and Gottfried, and a note that Auburn's (SEC also) Jeff Lebo might have problems, the significant turnover in the SEC coaching ranks.

Two early names in the mix as replacements include Minnesota's Tubby Smith (proposed by the same Terence Moore who cheered Felton's ouster -- not sure why Tubby would return to the conference, and especially to a school that fired its coach mid-season...) and Oklahoma's Jeff Capel, suggested by Hoops Weiss.

Preview -- Cincinnati

Villanova hosts Cincinnati at the Pavilion for the second time since Cincinnati joined the Big East. The teams first met (in Cincinnati) in 1947, Villanova the 70-68. Villanova holds a 3-1 edge in the series...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Bearcats faced three common opponents so far. All three, St. John's, Louisville and South Florida, are conference mates:

St. John'sW (H)+19W (A)+11
MarquetteL (A)-7L (A)-34
ConnecticutL (A)-6L (H)-9

Cincinnati (Big East, 13-7, 4-4, RPI #59) has 4 wins against Top 100 competition. Their best win was their last game, a home win against Georgetown (Big East, 12-7, 3-5, RPI #19), but other notable wins include home wins over UAB (CUSA, 13-8, RPI #46) & Mississippi St. (SEC, 13-6, RPI #88), and a road win against UNLV (MWC, 16-4, RPI #45). While Cincinnat has not been tagged with a "bad loss", they did drop both ends of their home-n-away with Providence (14-6, 6-2, RPI #61). I am not sure how that will affect standings in case of a tie breaker, but note that Villanova too has a home-n-away with Providence this season...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Like virtually every Big East team this season, Head Coach Mick Cronan has had to shuffle his rotation in the face of injuries. For the Bearcats the loss of well regarded freshman point guard Cashmire Wright just before the start of the season meant he had to shift junior Deonta Vaughn (6-1, 195lbs) back to the point. Vaughn had moved over to the #2 when Jamal Warren stepped in to pick up the ball handling tasks last season. The combination worked well and Cronan had hoped to continue the system with Wright. Instead Vaughn handles the ball while Cronan gives either sophomore Larry Davis (6-3, 180lbs) or freshman Dion Dixon (6-3, 180lbs) the nod at the #2. Davis has started over Dixon in the Big East games (so far), but Dixon gets his minutes, lately ranging upwards of 30 minutes. Vaughn is the 1st option on offense. He will take 1 in 4 of the Bearcat's shots when he is on the court (and he is on > 80% of the time). Dixon and Davis have both posted multiple double digit outings, though Dixon appears to have the hot hand of late. While both are classified on Ken Pomeroy's Team Page as role players, they are efficient (but not extremely efficient) scorers. They are about equally likely to take a 3FGA, Davis is a touch more accurate.

Coach Cronan will start red shirt senior transfer Mike Williams (6-7, 240lbs) and sophomore Rashad Bishop (6-6, 220lbs) in the frontcourt. Coach Cronan has tinkered with the last starting spot. For the past four games he has started junior JUCO Steven Toyloy (6-8, 255lbs) at the #5, but he has also started freshman Yancy Gates (6-9, 225lbs) in that spot. No matter which starts, the other will get between 15 & 25 minutes. Cronan seems to favor a rotation of 9 to 10 players (usually 9), and those last two spots have conisently gone to two sophomores, Alvin Mitchell (6-5, 215lbs) and Darnell Wilkes (6-7, 195lbs). Any more time to divvy up, and Wildcat fans may see senior guard Brandon Miller (6-4, 195lbs). But that would most likely mean either team is in bad, bad trouble.

Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, Dwayne Anderson and Scottie Reynolds will start for the Wildcats. The last spot will likely go to junior Reggie Redding, the 5th starter for the South Florida & Pittsburgh games. Redding led the team in points scored versus Pitt (18) while posting a 1.67 PPWS with an eFG% of 66.7, hitting 4 of 6 FGAs & a perfect 10-10 from the line. The 'Cats will need that type of accuracy from the line as Nati is reputed to be a physical team. The two Coreys (Fisher or Stokes), along with senior Shane Clark, his wrist still secured in a flexible cast, will definitely see time as well. Cunningham & Pena avoided foul trouble against Pittsburgh, despite the Panthers physical style of play. This game promises to be physical as well, so the staff may again call on senior reserve Frank Tchuisi to put in some time. Clark and Redding led the team in rebounds against the bigger Panther squad.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Nati plays for about 65.6 possessions, ranking it just abit below average (67.1) for D1 teams. Their (adjusted) offensive/defensive rating, 106.3/94.1 (per Ken Pomeroy's Team Page, ranks them well above average among the D1 teams. Their defense (ranked #63) is a bit ahead of their offense (ranked #92). They are good, but the 'Cats are a better at both ends of the floor. A look at the "numbers underneath" give us an idea of what Cincinnati does well (and why they are ranked where they are).

When Cincinnati has the ball...
Bearcat O48.421.442.431.0
Wildcat D44.922.129.637.6

The Bearcats are a bit below average at converting FGAs efficiently (eFG% is ranked #188), they are mediocre at protecting the ball (TO% is ranked #216) and not especially strong at getting to the line (FTA/FGA is ranked #280), but they are among the D1 elites at rebounding under their basket (OR% is ranked #4). And that skill masks their conversion rate by providing a host of 2nd (and 3rd?) opportunities for scoring. Given that Nova is not too shabby at defensive rebounding (OR% is 29.6, ranked #50), expect another battle under the (Bearcat's) basket. Cincinnati takes about 31% of their FGAs as 3s, a bit higher than the average D1 squad. They are not adept, however, at hitting either their 2s or their 3s, converting about 47.5% of their 2FGAs, and about 1 in 3 of their 3FGAs. That is where their rebounding helps them. Turnovers should be interesting. Nova has not pressed much lately, but the Bearcats, given that Vaughn has a somewhat mediocre TO% of 22.7 (significant because he handles about 1 in 4 possessions) and of Nati's two backcourt alternatives only Dixon is clearly better. From the rotation, only Gates (at 13.8 he is ranked among the Top 250), Dixon (16.3) and Williams (19.1) lose fewer than 1 in 5 of their possessions. The Wildcats have forced turnovers a bit better than the average D1 defense (ranked #104), suggesting they may have some success against Cincinnati. The only The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Cincinnati's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.618.435.742.9
Bearcat D46.320.633.532.5

The Wildcats will look for their points inside the arc, which the Bearcats have proven a littly better at defending than beyond the arc. The Wildcat's proficiency at getting their own misses has declined steadily over the course of their Big East play. The Bearcats are an "average" team at defensive rebounding. The 'Cats rely on points from the line for about 1 in 4 of their total, while the Bearcats are used to yeilding only 1 in 5 of their opponent's points from the charity stripe...

Want to Beat the Bearcats? Then...
Shooting emerges as a critical factor for both squads. But the Bearcats appear to be sensitive to turnovers as well. Villanova secondary factors appears to include effectively limiting opponent's second chance points
1. Defend their shooting -- When the Bearcats shoot to an eFG% of 44.9 (Nova's defensive eFG%) they are 1-5. When they shoot to less than 50.0% they are 5-6.
2. Hit your shots -- Nova's record when they have converted at 44.0 or better is 15-2. When the Bearcat's opponents convert at 50.6 or better (Nova's eFG%), they are 2-3.
3. Force turnovers -- When their turnover rate is 22.1 or worse, the Bearcats were 6-5. When they lost more than a quarter of their possessions they were 1-3.
4. Value the ball -- When the Bearcat's opponents' TO% was 18.1 or less, the Bearcats were 5-4. When the 'Cats had a TO% of 20.6 or lower they were 10-2.
5. Limit 2nd Chance Opportunities -- When the Bearcats were limited to less than their average (42.4), they went 6-7.

...Unlike Villanova, Cincinnati is very deep on size and front court players, but a bit thin in the back court. Their play, it follows, is physical and controlling, but with Vaughn, Davis and Dixon to shoot 3s, this should be more than just a low post wrestling match. Pena and Cunningham will need to stay on the court for the Wildcats to have all elements of their offense and defense available.

According to calculations, this game should go for about 65 possessions, with Villanova on top by 11 points. The margin and confidence level (85%) suggests this is a game the 'Cats are expected to win. The similar records (Nova is 4-3 and Nati is 4-4), suggest Villanova needs a win to push Cincinnati away, and lend credibility to their win over Pitt.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pittsburgh Post Game -- Turning Down the Lights

The Palestra is Philadelphia's Cathedral of (College) Basketball, but the city's other two arenas, the Wachovia(? -- not sure what the locals are calling this facility now that it's corporate sponsor is owned by Wells Fargo Bank) and the Spectrum have both seen a few historic games of their own. It is only fitting that the Spectrum, the building in which Christian Laettener took a 75 foot out of bounds pass, turn and shoot with less than a second on the clock in overtime to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA's East Regional Final, in which the Wildcats took the Georgetown Hoyas to overtime in 1985 before falling by a 2 point margin (three monthes later the 'Cats would exact revenge in the National Championship game in Lexington, Ky) and in which, in 1996 Villanova hosted North Carolina and beat the 'Heels for the second time in the 1995-96 season, 76-56. All in the Spectrum. It was only fitting then that last night the #21 Wildcats should host and defeat the #3 Pittsburgh Panthers in the last college game to be played in the building before it is demolished.

Pete from Let's Go Nova was (I believe...) out of the box early with his recap/analysis, "REDEMPTION? Nova Upsets Pitt", one of the more upbeat pieces he has posted lately. The guys over at I Bleed Blue and White have posted a more traditional recap/analysis, "postgame -- Villanova 67 Pittsburgh 57". Tim over at the Nova News Blog has yet to post. Very strange as Tim is usually first to press. comes through with the usual good, but brief recap. If the Nova Blogosphere is celebrating the Top 5 win, the Philadelphia media was a little divided on how to frame the story. The Inky's Joe Juliano decided to go with the signature win story line. PDN writer Mike Kern and Inky columnist Bob Ford decided to weave a Spectrum retrospective into their game narrative. And then there is Rich Hoffman who decided to wax nostalgic about how difficult it was for the Big 5 schools to embrace the big arena Spectrum when Villanova and Temple first played their games there back in the 1970s and 80s, leaving the Palestra to Penn and those Big 5 opponents who opted to schedule their "home" Big 5 game in the 8,900 seat facility. What Hoffman seems to forget is that during the 1930s, 40s and into the early 1950s, three of the city schools who eventually formed the Big 5 played their "downtown" games in the Convention Center, an 8,500 seat facility considered modern at the time. When they, along with Penn and Villanova formed the Big 5 they all agreed to renovate the Palestra and add (you guessed it) another 500 or so seats to the 8,400 seat facility. Which made the Palestra the biggest (and most modern?) arena in Philadelphia. By moving to the Spectrum for their games, Villanova and Temple were not, as suggested by Hoffman, abandoning Palestra and their Big 5 mates, but were instead remaining true to a tradition established in the 1930s and continued in the 1950s, of upgrading their venue to the largest and most modern available. Temple eventually constructed The Liacouras Center (seating capacity 10,200) on their own campus, and subsequently moved all but the highest profile opponent home games into that facility.

The AP wire story (over at the Official website) also decided to go with a history and local focus by featuring game-high scorer Reggie Redding along with the Spectrum, in that recap of the game. The traditional box score is available, as is Mike Sheridan's post game notes.

The breakdown by halves...

 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments...
...most of the recaps concentrate on the second half defense. The defense in the first half was not too shabby either. The Panther's 1st half ORtg, 93.6, was nearly 30 points below their season long ORtg of 121.9. A look at the "Four Factors" (table above) indicates that while Nova had problems with shot defense (not great problems mind you) forcing a 30% turnover rate on Panther possessions coupled with keeping Pitt off the free throw line worked to limit the Panther's offensive production, even in the face of an appalling (but nevertheless typical for Pitt...) effort on the boards. Villanova trailed in the first half because their offensive production lagged seriously behind Pittsburgh's. Given the gap in offensive efficiencies, Nova hit the locker room trailing by only 5 had to be encouraging.

If the 2nd half was not the best all around effort this season (those who look at the 2nd half of the Temple game may have an argument), then I can safely say that it was the best effort against a teams whose RPI is higher than #267. Defenively, the Wildcats far exceeded their "rating expectations" (79.8 vs 89.3). This against the most efficient offense in the Big East (and #3 in D1). Their offensive rating was among the best they have posted this season, well above their season rating (125.9 vs 110.6). The game-long ORtg, 102.0, may be well below Nova's season-long ORtg, but remember this conversion rate comes against the #20 ranked defensive team in D1 (and ranked #2 in the Big East). Those (like Fan House writer Charles Rich & a number of Pitt fans) who suspect the referees may have had an influence on the outcome will have to look beyond the numbers, as there are few in the table above that support that notion. The tremendous ORtg of the 2nd half came primarily from converting field goal attempts efficiently (eFG% -- 60.9) and from cutting down on turnovers (TORate -- 15.3),combined with their FTA/FGA rate (87.0). The 'Cats had better 2nd half FTA/FGA rates against the Bulls and Cardinals (away and home respectively), and typically get to the line once for every 1-2 FGAs (typical for a half only). In my preview from earlier in the week I suggested the Wildcats had to defense the Panther FGAs, hit their own shots, force turnovers and deny the Panthers 2nd chance points. Three out of four, especially when 2 are related to shooting, was good enough last night.

1. The trend for offense from these 'Cats has increasingly been to look to a Mr. Inside (Dante Cunningham), Mr. Outside (Scottie Reynolds) and an "and one" to provide the points. While the and one changes from game to game, Corey Fisher has emerged as the team member most likely to fill that role. Fisher has consistently pulled about 50% of the available minutes while contributing between 20% - 28% of the shots. He converts by and large, efficiently as well. Fisher has been the 2nd/3rd option on offense in 3 of those games. Others in that role have included Pena and Stokes.
2. Pena, Stokes, Anderson, Clark and Redding have become a consistent and efficient "second wave" for the offense. Redding was the high scorer for the Pittsburgh game (even though proportionate to his PT he was a "role player" on offense...), recording an eFG% & PPWS of 66.7 & 1.67 respectively. Stokes pulled an eFG% & PPWS of 62.5 & 1.21 respectively.
3. Dwayne Anderson is back. I realize I wrote that after the South Florida game, but it is worth repeating. Anderson scored 7 points while hitting 2 3FGMs, grabbed 4 rebounds, dished 2 assists (and coughed up 2 turnovers) to go with 2 steals, all in 35 minutes of play. Dwayne may be up and down with respect to efficiency, but he is a reliable contributor and capable of some very good games.
4. Redding also had a tremendous night on the defensive boards, pulling in 19.1% of the defensive rebounds when he was on the court.

Ref Notes
Jim Burr, Bob Donato and Michael Stephens ran the game. Everyone on the crew has logged at least one previous Villanova game this season. While the allocation of whistles between the two teams smacked a bit of home cooking, visitor and home fouls & FTAs were within the standard deviation for home games.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Preview -- Pittsburgh

The Wildcats host the Panthers of Pittsburgh in the last game to be played in the Philadelphia's Spectrum on Wednesday night. The Wildcats-Panthers first played in 1960 (Nova won 76-49), the series promoted to "state rivalry" status when both schools joined the Big East. Villanova holds a 30-27 edge in the series...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Panthers faced three common opponents so far. All three, St. John's, Louisville and South Florida, are conference mates:

St. John'sW (H)+19W (H)+23
South FloridaW (A)+9W (H)+13
LouisvilleL (H)-1L (A)-6

Pittsburgh (Big East, 17-1, 6-1, RPI #2) has had a slew of notably good wins. Their best win was on the road against Georgetown (Big East, 12-6, 3-4, RPI #13), but other notable conference wins include at home win over Syracuse (16-4, 5-3, RPI #16) and a road win against Backyard Brawl rival West Virginia (12-4, 3-3, RPI #18). Notable OOC wins include a home win over Siena (MAAC, 16-5 RPI #20) and a road win over Florida State (ACC, 16-4, RPI #17). Pittsburgh's only loss, the road game versus Louisville (above) is not, given Louisville's RPI #9 & the road venue, is not damaging. Except in the polls...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Jamie Dixon will start, barring exigent circumstances, senior Levance Field (5-10, 190lbs) at the #1, junior transfer Jermaine Dixon (6-3, 190lbs) at the #2, senior Sam Young (6-6, 215lbs) at the #3, junior Tyrell Biggs (6-8, 240lbs) at the #4 and sophomore DeJuan Blair (6-7, 265lbs) at the #5. These five started the Panther's first game (an 86-63 win over Fairleigh Dickenson) and every game since. These five have typically received between 60% and 75% of the playing time during the Panther's OOC schedule, typically above 70% against the more competitive opponents on Pitt's schedule (Akron, Florida St, Texas Tech and Washington State. The average playing time of the five has risen to 72.1% for their Big East slate.

Blair was a co-ROY last season. Young was named to the preseason All Big East Team. Biggs was a well regarded HS prospect out of New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep. Young takes about 32% of the team's shots when he is on the court. Those FGAs can come from inside or outside, though he is a better 2 point shooter than a 3 point shooter. Blair takes 26% of the shots, so expect when the two play together that any shots hoisted will come from either. Biggs is valued for his rebounding, and, though an efficient scorer, functions as the 4th/5th option on offense. When Blair (of the 3 front court players he logs the least amount of time, most likely given his tenddency to foul) or any of the others sits, expect to see redshirt sophomore Gilbert Brown (6-6, 200lbs), senior transfer Gary McGhee (6-10, 255lbs) or freshman Nasir Robinson (6-5, 210lbs) to log some time. If it's Blair, then (unless McGhee comes in...) Biggs plays up a position while Brown or Robinson logs the time.

Fields and Dixon hold down the back court spots. But expect to see sophomore Bradley Wanamaker (6-4, 205lbs), or freshmen guards Travon Woodall (5-11, 190lbs) or Ashton Gibbs (6-2, 190lbs) on the court. Wanamaker, a graduate of Philadelphia's Roman Catholic HS has seen his PT rise to about 50% of the available time over the course of Big East play. Gibbs has appeared in nearly all of the Panther's games this season, providing very efficient (though very occasional) offense.

Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, Dwayne Anderson and Scottie Reynolds will start for the Wildcats. The last spot will likely go to junior Reggie Redding, the 5th starter for the South Florida last Saturday and had a pretty good outing. Redding posted a 1.01 PPWS with an eFG% of 55.6, hitting 5 of 9 FGAs. The two Coreys (Fisher or Stokes), along with senior Shane Clark, his wrist still secured in a flexible cast, will definitely see time as well. Cunningham, Pena and Redding all had foul trouble against the Bulls, a troubling trend for all three players, that has developed over the past two games. This game promises to be physical as well, so the staff may again call on senior reserve Frank Tchuisi to put in some time. . Pena logged a strong game on the boards versus the Huskies; the 'Cats will need him to do the same against the Panthers.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Pitt plays for about 65.7 possessions, ranking it just abit below average (67.1) for D1 teams. Their (adjusted) offensive/defensive rating, 121.9/81.6 (per Ken Pomeroy's Team Page, ranks them among the D1 elites. Their offense is #1, making this a particularly difficult game for the Wildcats. A look at the "numbers underneath" give us an idea of how they do it.

When Pitt has the ball...
Panther O52.517.543.130.8
Wildcat D44.921.929.337.9

Pitt hits their shots (eFG% at 52.5 is ranked #57), limits their turnovers (ranked #20) and rebounds misses as nearly the best in D1 (ranked #2), which explains how they convert their possessions into points so efficiently. Their one point of vulnerablility appears to be getting to the charity stripe, with a 30.8% rate (they get to the line about 3 times for every 10 FGAs), ranks them a very low #285, but when everything else is hitting on all cylinders, points from the free throw line may not be necessary. About 29% of their FGAs are 3s, but only 1 in 4 of their points comes from made 3s. Their strategy is pretty straightforward, punch the ball inside to either Young or Blair, who will convert or kick out to a wing. Or have Fields penetrate and, depending on where the help comes from, pass it out to the wing or down to the low post. Simple. Stopping them however, is quite a bit trickier. Outside threats include Fields and Wanamaker (most likely by percentage) or Young (by virtue of the fact he is Pitt's 1st scoring option & takes about 1 in 3 of his FGAs from beyond the arc). Expect a battle under the Panther's basket. Nova is performing at a near elite (ranked according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report (#48) level while rebounding their opponent's misses. The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Pitt's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.618.436.342.3
Panther D43.821.330.928.8

Like the Panthers, the Wildcats get their points inside the arc. They rely on the 3 for about 1 in 4 points (like Pitt), but look for points from the line for a bit more of their offensive production than do the Panthers. , ...

Want to Beat the Panthers? Then...
Shooting dominates as a critical factor for both squads. But for Pitt, their ability to limit their turnovers may also be critical. Villanova secondary factors appears to include effectively limiting opponent's second chance points
1. Defend their shooting -- The Panther's eFG% was 42.9 when they lost to Louisville (an ugly affair in which neither team shot particularly well). In 2 other games they shot less than 40%. Their winning margins in those games were +14 (Washington St.) and +8 (Florida St.).
2. Hit your shots -- Nova's record when they have converted at 44.0 or better is 14-2.
3. Force turnovers -- The Panthers worst game for turnovers was their loss to Louisville. When they turn the ball over on 22% or more they are 3-1. Their winning margins, +8 (Florida St.), +27 (Duquesne -- the Dukes had a terrible shooting night & lost over a third of their own possessions) and +14 (Belmont -- an even worse shooting night than Duquesne...).
4. Limit their 2nd chances -- The Panthers rebound about 43.1% of their misses. Nova has not allowed an OR% that high this season. They are 2-3 when they have allowed opponents offensive rebounding to go 34.5% or higher.

...The two teams are very similar, though Villanova's numbers suggest it is less proficient at converting possessions to points (and stopping opponents from doing the same). Limiting Blair's effectiveness, while simultaneously containing Young is probably the Wildcat's biggest challenge to date.

According to calculations, this game should go for about 65 possessions, with Pittsburgh taking a 3 point decision. The margin is interesting as it suggests the game may well come down to a single possession. And the Panther's FGM, at 64.8%, is among the worst in D1 (ranked #289). Villanova by contrast, converts at nearly a 75% (I know, that is a spotty performance...), a good contrast if it turns into a free throw shooting contest at the end.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Coaching Carousal -- Early Push off in the SEC

Can the downswing in the SEC be responsible for the early start on the coachin searches? In the 2 seasons since Florida's Billy Donovan took his second consecutive NC, an SEC school has given the coaching carousal it's first big shove of the season. And true to form, this one nearly coincides with LSU's ouster of head coach John Brady last season.

Mark Gottfried, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide resigned this afternoon, according to official announcement, after a conference with Alabama AD Mal Moore. Assistant Coach Philip Pearson was named interim coach and is expected to finish the season. A job search will begin shortly and be conducted without news updates, according to AD Moore.

Mark 1/26/09 as the official start of this season's coaching search.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: A Night At the Rock

by Ray Floriani

NEWARK NJ - Seton Hall dropped a 98-93 heartbreaker in overtime to Providence on Wednesday at the Prudential Center. A few days have passed but this game is another interesting tempo free study. In the first half both Keno Davis of PC and the Hall’s Bobby Gonzalez had to be taking turns cursing and praising that three point line. It seemed neither team could miss.

At the half…

Seton Hall423811151.0

Providence was 9 of 12 beyond the arc while the Hall was 6 of 12. That’s a combined three point percentage of over 60%.

The second half and especially in overtime saw Providence make a concerted effort to go inside. Davis wanted to utilize his team’s inside strength, get the Hall in foul trouble and wear them down. It was successful. Gonzalez did not criticize the officials but wondered, "how did they shoot 42 free throws to our 22?". It was simply a change in shot selection as Providence attacked the basket.

FTA by Half
Seton Hall616

Percentage of shots attempted from "three"

% of 3FGA by Half
Seton Hall34%43%

Another factor…The visiting friars grabbed an early overtime lead leaving the Hall in a ‘fouling mode’ to get the ball back.

Jeremy Hazell led all scorers with 30 points (7 of 12 from three). In the stretch, and OT, the Hall sharp shooter was closely guarded and did not get any great open looks. Jeff Frazier who was recruited and started his career for Gonzalez at Manhattan led the Friars with 20 points.

The final numbers…

Seton Hall8111558%29

That offensive board disparity was another factor that contributed to the Hall’s foul situation.

South Florida Post Game -- Win the Ones You Are Supposed to Win

In the second leg of a two game "road trip" found the Wildcats in the sunshine of Southern Florida where Villanova faced off against the Bulls of South Florida. The situation required a bounceback performance from several team members, and they did not disappoint as the 'Cats took a. Tim over at the Nova News Blog provides an entertaining recap by resurrecting a movie theme from last season in his post "Nova Survives Rumble in South Florida". The guys over at I Bleed Blue and White have posted a couple of entries. The post game recap/analysis, "Postgame: Villanova 70 USF 61" echoes an attitude I read (waaaay too much of) over on the Villanova message boards, and even picked up a bit in Tim's post over at Nova News -- that the game was somehow a (albeit tiny perhaps) failure because the Wildcats did not run the Bulls out of the Sun Dome. IrishChris followed with a post about Antonio Pena, "Opinion: Pena is Coming Around" gives a nod to Pena's largely unrecognized progress with the start of the Big East season. comes through with the usual good, but brief recap. If the Nova Blogosphere is a bit down right now, the AP wire story (over at the Official website) noted the offensive struggles, but concluded with quotes from Dwayne Anderson and Coach Wright that contended the game was just a typical Big East game. I did not find the traditional box score over at Villanova's website yet, so I linked to South Florida's site (home team usually posts the box score first). CO_HOYA has not posted the HD box yet, but I expect he will have it available in the next day or two.

The breakdown by halves...

OpponentSouth Florida 
 Offense Defense

Take the Press Reports...
...that suggest this was a defensive struggle with a grain of salt. Defensively, the Wildcats modestly exceeded their "rating expectations" (89.1 vs 89.3). Their offensive rating was slightly off their season-long rating (102.2 vs 110.7). Media (and fan) lamentations therefore are only half true for Villanova. The teams played to a 32-32 tie in the 1st half, as the Ratings (Offense/Defense above) indicate. It is common by the way to find opponents derive the same rating through different means. Note that Villanova converted efficiently (eFG%), but had an atrocious turnover rate (TORate). The 'Cats did a credible (but the usual beaten-path-to-the-free-throw-line number) translating FGAs into free throw attempts (FTA/FGA), but were not especially adept at converting once they got there (the FTM% for the 1st half was 55.7%). South Florida by contrast were a bit more efficient at converting field goal attempts and took care of the ball just a bit better than the Wildcats. Note however, their offensive rebounding rate (OR%). At 14.3, it points to the importance (for the Bulls, given their difficulty at converting field goals) of 2nd chance points. Their OR% suggests they retrieved less than 1 in 6 of their misses. Given that their overall FGM% for that 1st half was 45.5%, it means that of the 22 FGAs they took in that 1st half only 2 were 2nd chance points.

Halftime adjustments brought both a lockdown on the Bull's offense, and an offensive surge by the Wildcats. Note that the Nova's shooting efficiency declined slightly, even as the team's offensive rating rose to a level only a bit off their season-long rating of 110.7. The reasons? A modest improvement in turnovers, but more significantly, a dramatic increase in free throw opportunities. Their 2nd half FTA/FGA rate (108.7) indicate the 'Cats had more free throws than field goal attempts. Their conversion frequency at the line improved as well. As for the Bulls, the dramatic decline in their shooting efficiency and more modest decline in their FTA/FGA rate overwhelmed their improvement in limiting turnover and grabbing offenive rebounds.

1. On a day when Scottie Reynolds stepped over to become a pass-first point guard (he had 7 assists to go with his modest -- and season low?) 7 points, Dante Cunningham stepped up in a huge way. Though his PT was limited (severely) from his nemsis fouling, Dante took 50% of the shots when he was on the court. The offensive plan was to push the ball into the paint and convert, as Antonio Pena too had a large role in the offense. Pena, who played 57.5% of the minutes (about 23 minutes) had a regular/star-level day on offense, taking 24.3% of the shots when he was on the court. With the two forwards playing in tandem, they took, between them, nearly 3 of every 4 shots produced on offense. The four guard offense, perimeter-oriented offense is gone. This group of players is capable of going either inside or outside, based on what the opponent is willing to give.
2. Corey Fisher and Reggie Redding proved to be an efficient scoring duo in the back court. They played the 2nd/3rd option role in the offense, producing points from the field and at the line. Fisher's eFG% & PPWS were 50.0 & 1.13 respectively. Redding's numbers were 55.6 and 1.01. His PPWS was lower than Fisher's because Reggie went 1-4 from the line.
3. Dwayne Anderson i back. He scored 7 points to go with his 11 rebounds (4-7-11). Anderson logged the most minutes of any starter (92.5% of the available minutes) today. He, like Scottie, stepped into the background on offense, but nevertheless converted his modest number of opportunites very efficiently (eFG%/PPWS were 50.0/1.09).
4. On a day when the Bulls effectively limited Cunningham's and Pena's access to the offensive boards, Shane Clark, Anderson and Corey Stokes had monster days. The Bulls stopped Pena and Stokes on the defensive boards, but could not contain Cunningham, Anderson and Clark. The rebounding was very lopsided in favor of the Wildcats. Against the Bulls the 'Cats performed ahead of their own season numbers (off/opp off) of 36.3/29.6 (compare to above).

Ref Notes
The crew was manned by Ed Corbett, Brian O'Connell and Mike Stuart, three Big East veteran refs who have each run at least one Nova game going into this one. Like the Husky game, this one also featured a good deal of fouling and free throw attempts. But this time the Wildcats were the beneficiaries of the whistles. Nova's 34 FTAs were the 3rd highest number they have taken this season and the most they have gotten in a road game. Villanova's record is 4-1 when the individuals from this crew are refereeing their games.

Roster Notes
Senior Shane Clark played, but had what appeared to be a flexible cast protecting his wrist. South Florida senior (transfer) forward Mobolaji Ajayi tore an ACL in practice last week and did not dress. He will miss the balance of the season. South Florida has now lost two players to ACL tears (sophomore transfer guard Mike Mercer & Ajayi).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Preview -- South Florida

The Wildcats and Bulls have their one game this season in Tampa on Saturday. In a made-by-conference series, Villanova leads 2-0. Hopefully the Wildcats can stay on their run...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Bulls faced two common opponents so far, Niagara was an OOC opponent, and Louisville was a conference opponent:

NiagaraW (H)+15L (H)-15
LouisvilleL (H)-1L (H)-14

South Florida (Big East, 7-11, RPI #150) has had few notably good wins or notably bad losses. Their best win was against Northeastern (CAA, 12-6, RPI #64). The most damaging loss to date would have to be the 26 point loss versus Oral Roberts (Summit, 8-11, RPI #155)...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Stan Heath has brought in quite a few players in the past 20 or so monthes. Nowhere is the challenge of integrating these parts more obvious than in the starting lineup. For the 18 games played to date, the Bulls have used no less than 10 different starting lineups. That includes three different lineups in their first six Big East games.

In the front court Coach Heath has his choice of freshman transfer Gus Gilchrist (6-10, 235lbs) or junior Alex Rivas-Sanchez (6-10, 230lbs) to man the low blocks. Gilchrist has, since his appeal to play was granted in mid-December, conistently drawn minutes, whether or not he starts. Heath can draw from a pool of tweeners that includes seniors Mobolaji Ajayi (6-9, 225lbs) and Aris Williams (6-9, 235lbs) and freshmen Mitch Emory (6-6, 205lbs) and Eladio Espinosa (6-7, 220lbs) to man the #4/#5 spots. Lately (the Big East season...), Coach Heath has platooned Ajayi with Espinosa or Williams and Gilchrist. Gilchrist and Williams started the Bull's last game (the second DePaul game). Whether they start or come off the bench, Ajayi and Williams draw double digit minutes, even as Eladio's minutes seem to fluxuate in a range of 9 to 26 minutes (most often double digits). Gilchrist started as soon as he was eligible (the Niagara game), but despite being rotated in and out of the starting lineup, has managed to consistently draw minutes in the range of 15 to 32 minutes ever since. Sanchez's playing time by contrast, has fluxuated widely from game to game and Emory has played in a single game this season.

The back court is a bit easier, as Coach Heath will start sophomore Dominique Jones (6-4, 205lbs) and... two of senior transfer Jesus Verdejo (6-4, 205lbs), red shirt junior Chris Howard (6-3, 200lbs) and freshman Justin Leemow (6-1, 175lbs). Howard is an experienced point guard with a pass first mentality. He is ranked in Ken Pomeroy's Top 500 for assists and is second on the team (behind Jones) for assists. Leemow has appeared in all 18 of the Bull's games, but has logged only 25.3% of the playing time available for a guard position. Jones (91.4), Verdejo (86.3) and Howard (79.3) have logged large blocks of time. Freshmen guards BJ Daniels (6-1, 212lbs) and Gaby Belardio (6-2, 180lbs) are available when Coach Heath wants to dip deeper into his bench. Both have appeared in about 10 games this season.

Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, Dwayne Anderson and Scottie Reynolds will start for the Wildcats. The last spot will go to one of the Coreys (Fisher or Stokes) or Reggie Redding. Shane Clark, his wrist secured in a flexible cast for the Connecticut game, will see time as well. Cunningham had foul trouble against the Huskies, playing a total of 14 minutes, easily his season low. Anderson and Stokes had efficient scoring that night, the problem is they played relative small roles in the offense, taking only about 1 in 6 available shots when they were in the game. Pena logged a strong game on the boards versus the Huskies; the 'Cats will need him to do the same against the Bulls.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
USF plays for about 63.1 possessions, ranking it among the lowest of the down tempo teams in D1. Their (adjusted) offensive/defensive rating, 106.2/97.5 suggests they play pretty good offense and pretty "average" defense. A look at the "numbers underneath" give us an idea of how they do it.

When South Florida has the ball...
Bull O46.220.537.039.5
Wildcat D45.122.229.637.0

Expect a battle under the Bull's basket. Nova is performing at a near elite (ranked according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report (#53) level while rebounding their own misses is one of the several (according to the same Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report) offensive skills (at which they excel - ranked #52) which the Bulls have employed to mask their shooting deficiencies this season. Bull shot making is very mediocre (I am being kind here), ranked at #257 by Ken Pomeroy. There is no special deficiency (unless you count free throws, which the Bulls have converted at a 60.2% rate), as South Florida is ranked in the mid 200s for FGM% in both 2s (45.6/#247) and 3s (31.8/#248). Offensive rebounding, combined with getting to the line, have helped the Bulls compensate for their inability to score consistently with their first FGA of their possession. Dominique Jones generates a good deal of the offense, with his shot% at 28.6 and offensive rating at 109.2, but as his eFG% (at 48.5) & PPWS (1.08) suggest, he has no consistent inside threat in the form of a Kentrall Gransberry to draw some defensive attention. He is taking a lot of the shots as he was last season, but this time they are not dropping because he is drawing a good deal of the defensive attention. Gus Gilchrist, eligible since mid-December, will be up to season. He and Jesus Verdejo nearly match Jones in shot% (28.0 & 27.7 respectively), but are no more efficient (eFG%s of 47.4 & 48.8 respectively) and considerably less accurate (PPWSs of 0.98 & 0.97 respectively) -- the monkey on their collective backs it seems, is the free throw line. Gilchrist hits at a 51.7% rate while Verdejo converts 64.4% of his FTAs. Turnovers should be interesting because the 'Cats are pretty good (not great) at forcing turnovers while the Bulls seem no better than average (ranked #) for valuing the ball. The weak link may well be Chris Howard, whose individual turnover rate 24.0 is just barely on the good side of his assist rate (25.1). Howard in fact is notably good at setting up his teammates, but his good work is undermined by the turnovers.
The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus USF's defense:
When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.718.136.341.0
Bull D45.618.835.841.4

Note the matchups when Villanova has the ball are mirror reverses -- where Villanova excels USF fails, and where Nova struggles, the Bulls excel. Such is the state of shooting, as the Wildcats slide towards the middle of D1 (ranked #105) while the Bulls hover at near-elite levels (ranked #57). The Wildcats would do well to take their chances on the inside against Gilchrist (or Williams...Verdejo...Ajayi), as USF seems particularly good at defending the 3. The Bulls struggle to rebound defensively, do not tend to force turnovers and do not keep opponents off the line. While their numbers suffer from having faced Pittsburgh, Louisville and Syracuse, three of the Big East's stronger offensive squads, the Wildcat's prospects clearly hang on their ability to score against the Bulls front line, or generate second and third chance opportunities...

Want to Beat the Bulls? Then...
Shooting dominates as a critical factor for both squads. But for USF, Nova's turnovers can affect the outcome. Villanova appears to be sensitive effectively limiting opponent's second chance points
1. Defend their shooting -- When the Bull's eFG% was 41.4 or less they went 1-7.
2. Hit your shots -- The conversion rate seems a bit low, but when USF's opponents have shot 44.0 or better (eFG%) the Bulls record has been 2-10. Nova's record when they have converted at 44.0 or better is 13-2.
3. Value the ball -- The Bull's are 2-8 when their opponents have a TO% of 20.5 or less. The Wildcats have had a TO% that high or higher in 7 games so far.
4. Limit their 2nd chances -- The Bulls rebound about 37.0% of their misses. When Nova allows an OR% that high they have gone 1-2. The Bulls are 2-7 when they have been held to that rebounding rate or lower.

...Coach Heath appears to be running a kind of extended team tryout for the #3, #4 and #5 spots. While he is asking Jones to do more (even distribute the ball in addition to score), he needs consistent second and third options on offense. The Bulls can defend, but shooting presents a challenge for them. Coach Wright has settled on a rotation that goes (foul trouble or blow out excepted) of between 8 and 9 players.

According to calculations, this game should go for about 61 possessions (South Florida's comfort zone), with the 'Cats taking a 5 point decision. If the possessions are that low, Nova should be able to win if they score at least 65 points.

Connecticut Post Game -- Progress

Ken Pomeroy's offensive/defensive efficiency calculations (skewed for possessions) projected Villanova a 7 point loser. The Wildcats lost by 6. I am not going to post much about this, beyond links to those who have done a better job relating and analyzing the results. Tim over at the Nova News Blog provides a nice recap with a series of "quick hit" facts/observations about the game in his "Price Shoots UConn Past Nova" post game entry. By the way Tim, I suspect Redding and Reynolds pushed the ball to the cup because they were looking for contact on their shot, and an oppertunity to stop the clock while they scored (at worst?), and get that old fashioned 3 (at best). The guys over at I Bleed Blue and White have posted a series of entries. I linked to the top of the blog so that the curious will catch all of the entries. And comes through with a brief recap. Mike Sheridan's post game notes (over at the Official website) are enteraining and informative as always. And of course there is the AP wire story. The traditional box score is also available at Villanova's website, but CO_HOYA has also put up his HD boxscore.

The breakdown by halves...

 Offense Defense

Ref Notes
The crew was manned by Jim Burr, Pat Driscoll and Jim Haney. All three have worked Wildcat games this season, Haney as recently as the Louisville game. While the Huskies did get to the line a lot (39 times) -- outside of the standard deviation for road games this season, the difference was consistent with (and not at all surprising) earlier Villanova-Connecticut games. Villanova's record is 6-2 when the individuals from this crew are refereeing their games.

Roster Notes
1. Senior Shane Clark played, but had what appeared to be a flexible cast protecting his wrist. That most likely explains his reluctance to shoot when he was clearly left open several times.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Friar For (Another) Night

My Providence alum friend put me on to the reception/game tickets package offered through the New York Chapter. While a business commitment kept him out of the festivities he encouraged me to give it a try. My father (a pg at Bayonne HS back in the 1930s) was game, so I booked the reception/game, and at the appointed time, off we went. We parked at the Rock again and walked over to the Newark Club at 1 Prudential Center. It was a fantastic variety of well prepared food (Nova NJ Alum Chapter take note -- this is where you want to book the next time the 'Cats travel to the Rock...). The hostesses were gracious, even though I walked in with my block V cap on. In deference I checked it at the door. Thanks to Peter of Colts Neck and his son Brendon who, after inquiring of our affiliations (mine Villanova of course, and Pop I assured him, was of St. Peter's and Fordham -- we of course pledged to root vigorously for the Friars tonight...) enthusiastically offered us space at his table. After some conversation about location and the Friar's prospects, Pop and I finished our meal and headed back over to the Rock.

After we located our seats in Section 12, I shot a quick text off to my son's soccer coach (a Seton Hall fan, this is a frustrating season for his clan), settled Pop in and went off to try and catch up with Ray Floriani. Missed again, one of these days Ray and I will get our coordinates right (I am thinking about catching the Rutgers/Seton Hall game Ray). I headed back to my seat for the tip off and watched one of the most entertaining halves of basketball I have seen this season. The Friars were in complete control, racing out to a 41-27 lead with just under 5:00 left in the half. And then the Pirates began their comeback. Sharaud Curry picked up his second foul and had to sit. That seemed to stall the Friar's offense. He is getting back to that jet quick point guard (only with better judgment) that impressed me so much 3 seasons ago. In the space of about 3 minutes Jeremy Hazell dropped 3 3FGMs & 2 free throws on the Friars, while Stix Mitchell chipped in 2. And suddenly it was 41-40 Friars. Providence managed to close out the half with a 5-2 run and take a 46-42 lead into the locker room.

The key to Seton Hall I have decided, is to give Hazell his shots (sure you have to put a hand in his face when he launches a 3, but he is not going to put 60 points on the board), and clamp down on Gauss and Harvey's ability to penetrate. Oh, and have someone guard Stix. When you have the ball, punch it inside every chance you get. Take it at Garcia (and Davis), get them to sit, forcing the shorter Mitchell, Walters and Cajuste, to guard your bigs. The Pirates want to run very badly, so wear them out with a punishing inside game. Jeremy Hazell managed to get his 30 (9-18, 7-12, 5-7), but it was Gauss and Mitchell who, before they both fouled out managed to pick up 19 and 20 respectively. Where Paul Gauss found that 3 point shot of his I don't know, but when he hits it consistently it makes the Pirates a far more dangerous team. Unfortunately despite Jon Kale's 13 well earned points, Randell Hanke only got 3 touches, went 1-3 and scored 7 points. That's 20 points total from the low blocks. It seemed that the Friar wings could not decide whether to slow it down and punch it inside, or take the quick shot from the 3 point line. The shooter side seemed to win a lot in the second half, and the game seemed to be slipping away. They did manage to rally, down 84-83 with about :22 seconds left to force it in one last time to Geoff McDermott. He was duly fouled and though he had a chance to win at the line, he hit 1-2 and tied the game.

I don't know what it is between the Rock and me this season, but every game I have seen has gone to overtime. The Pirates, who had to be exhausted at that point (and down to Brandon Walters and Matt Cajuste to man the paint) finally succumbed. This time by a 95-91 score. The Friars could have folded, but they didn't. The Friars displayed some heart and determination tonight. And tonight they brought it home. Many thanks to Brian and Tom from Holmdel, who shared a good deal of insight about the Friars and put up with my, at times over boisterous, cheering. Hope you all got home safely. And thanks for letting me be a Friar.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Preview -- Connecticut

Villanova and Connecticut meet for the 8th time in past 6 seasons on Wednesday evening in Hartford. While Villanva holds a 32-26 edge in the series, that advantage is deceiving, as over those past 6 seasons (pretty good ones for the Wildcats) the Huskies hold a 4-3 record. Both teams have an abundence of sophomores, juniors and (for Villanova anyway) seniors. These teams (and coaches) know each other, in some cases very well. Corey Stokes was down to UConn and Villanova. Corey Fisher and Kemba Walker faced each other in New York playgrounds and on the AAU circuit. Dwayne Anderson and Jeff Adrien were teammates at Thomas More Prep. 5 of the last 7 games have been decided by 5 points or less (Villanova is 3-2 in those games). This one should be close as well...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Huskies played Seton Hall & St. John's recently (within the past 2 weeks):

Seton HallW (A)OT +4W (H)+15
St. John'sW (H)+19W (A)+12

UConn's (Big East 16-1, RPI #6) good wins include a home win over Wisconsin (Big Ten, 11-5, RPI #32) and road wins over West Virginia (Big East 13-4, RPI #27), Miami (FLA) (ACC, 12-4, RPI #32) & Gonzaga (WCC, 11-4, RPI #34). UConn's only loss was at home to Georgetown (Big East, 12-4, RPI #6). Connecticut is 10-1 at home this season...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Calhoun began the season with a three guard lineup that included seniors AJ Price, Craig Austrie and junior Jerome Dyson. Forward Stanley Robinson re-entered Connecticut at the end of the fall semester rejoined the team and, by-and-large, the starting lineup. Australian Atar Majok did not get his transcripts through the NCAA clearing house in time to enter the university this past fall. He is slated to join the program next fall.

Coach Calhoun will continue to pair senior AJ Price (6-2, 181lbs) with junior Jerome Dyson (6-4, 190lbs) to start the back court. As the game progresses, expect to see freshman Kemba Walker (6-1, 172lbs) and senior guard Craig Austrie (who ran the Huskies as a freshman point guard), early and often. While Dyson typically plays 30+ minutes, Price, Walker and Austrie draw nearly equal minutes. If the staff uses them interchangably, they are hardly identical parts -- Austrie will distribute the ball & shoot in about equal parts, while trying to get to the line; Walker will shoot first and distribute also in about equal parts, but plays a larger role (through ball handling?) according to Pomeroy's Poss%, all while trying to get to the lane with the reckless abandon that only an uninjured freshman displays; Price will distribute the ball and shoot even as he directs the offense.

Coach Calhoun will most likely start senior Jeff Adrien (6-7, 243lbs), and juniors Hasheem Thabeet (7-3, 263lbs) & Stanley Robinson (6-9, 210lbs) in the frontcourt. Adrien, much heralded as a freshman, but unable to carry the team as a sophomore, has found his niche over the past two seasons. He is aggressive to the ball, an efficient (though not prolific) scorer and a consistent rebounder. The star of the front court is Hasheem Thabeet from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Thabeet kicked off the season with a string of 8 double-doubles (and 3 more near double-doubles) so far this season. Robinson rejoined the team in time for the Gonzaga game. He has started the last five games. Junior Gavin Edwards (6-9, 234lbs) sees minutes in most games. When Coach Calhoun feels the need to go deeper than 8 in his rotation he will call on sophomore guard Donnell Beverly (6-4, 190lbs), freshman guard Scottie Haralson (6-4, 215lbs), or sophomore transfer center Charles Okwandu (7-1, 255lbs).

Villanova will start Scottie Reynolds in the back court, along with Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena in the frontcourt. The 3rd front court starter will most likely be senior Dwayne Anderson. For the last back court slot, look to the staff to choose 1 of the Coreys (Fisher or Stokes) or junior Reggie Redding. Dante is scoring well, though Scottie continues to draw attention of opposing team's defense (not a bad game plan, as the Seton Hall game proved). Dwayne Anderson has rejoined the team after rehabbing earlier in the fall. Dwayne contributes points and timely rebounds. Looking beyond Coach Wright's first 7-8, senior Frank Tchuisi, Jason Colenda and Russell Wooten are available. Tchuisi and Colenda saw time versus St. John's on Sunday.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
A funny thing happened to the Connecticut offense this season -- it slowed down. A lot. Connecticut historically has been one of the high-possession teams in the conference, usually getting between 69-71 possessions per (40 minute) game, good to be ranked #1/#2, or at worst #5. But always above the D1 average pace. The pace this season started off in the low 70s, as always, but declined quickly as they moved through the latter part of their OOC schedule.

When Connecticut has the ball...
Husky O54.117.939.949.4
Wildcat D44.722.429.035.0

The Wildcats find themselves up against another elite offense. Pomeroy ranks the Huskies #7 in adjusted offensive rating. These Huskies are not terribly different from any of the last 4-6 Connecticut teams -- just better at a few of Coach Calhoun's traditional points of emphasis. These guys don't turn the ball over often (ranked #33 in TO%). They prefer to shoot 2s over 3s (UConn is ranked #337 in shooting 3s), which makes sense because they are very efficient at scoring via 2FGAs (according to Ken Pomeroy's Connecticut Team Page their 2FGM% is 53.2%, ranked #32). They also hit their 3s by the way, but really don't emphasize them in the offense. But look for Price or Austrie if they are taking those 3FGAs, as those two typically take >40% of their 3FGAs from beyond the arc (Price is 59%, Austrie is 40.4%). They make their 3s the old fashioned way -- at the free throw line. And they do rely on the charity stripe for nearly 1 in 4 (23.8%) points. They get to the line on nearly 50% (49.4%) of their FGAs. The matchup under Connecticut's basket will be interesting in that it pit Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet (& Gavin Edwards when he is in...) against Villanova's Antonio Pena and Dante Cunningham. Cunningham has not drawn much attention from the zebras lately (quite unlike Pena), so UConn's proficiency at drawing fouls may well have an impact on who the 'Cats can put and keep on the floor. The "Four Factors" comparison of Villanova's offense versus Connecticut's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.718.136.441.4
Husky D43.317.829.618.8

Statistically Villanova's and Connecticut's defense are very similar (the Huskies are ranked #18, the Wildcats are ranked #21), there are however, a few significant differences. Connecticut is defensively efficient by contesting shots (eFG%), limiting 2nd chances (OR%) and keeping their opponents from converting much from the line (FTA/FGA -- which is actually FTM/FGA). They are miserable at forcing turnovers (TO%), ranked well into the lowest part of D1 (#315) in that category. Nova can expect their shots to be blocked, but not have their passess intercepted (Stl% is 9.2, #223). Nova, by contrast, contests the shot (just not as well...), controls the defensive boards and forces turnovers (which in turn limits shots). They don't keep their opponents off the line as well as Connecticut. Connecticut's shot defense is as good as Louisville's, and their defensive rebounding is almost as good as the Wildcat's (which suggests there will be another, nearly as fierce battle, under the Villanova basket). Like Connecticut, Villanova likes to get to the line, which Connecticut is pretty good at denying. Which should make for another interesting battle. Of the two teams, Nova by and large is the better free throw shooting team. If both sides get to the line an equal number of times (based on the past 2 games played at Connecticut, very unlikely), then the advantage should go to Nova.

Want to Beat the Huskies? Then...
The game plan for each team is hardly a secret...
1. Contest the shot -- Identified by Ken Pomeroy's Game Plan Page, the Huskies need to hit a high percentage of their FGAs. This is especially true given their reliance on the 2FGA ("and one"...). UConn had an eFG% of 48.0 in their loss to Georgetown. When Nova has been able to limit opponents to an eFG% of <50.0 they have gone 10-2.
2. Force turnovers -- The Hoyas were able to force the Huskies into a turnover rate of 27.2, the second worst TO% for UConn this season (the worst was vs West Virginia, a 61-55 win). Forcing turnovers is a defensive strength for Villanova. Something to watch for in this game.
3. Hit your own shots -- When Nova converts they tend to win. When their opponents convert it puts more pressure on UConn to convert. Georgetown's eFG% was 52.8; when their opponents convert (eFG%) at 52.0 or higher the Huskies are 4-1. When the Wildcats convert (eFG%) convert at a 50.0 rate or higher they are 8-0.

...I don't expect too many surprises in this game (and neither should the two teams) -- after all, the players and staff, with the exception of Kemba Walker and Scottie Haralson, have faced off at least once, and for most players/coaches twice before. The 'Cats tend to be able to disrupt the Huskies' communication, clog their passing lanes and contest their low post entry passes, while the Huskies tend to shut down the lane and force the 'Cats to shoot j's (which they block seemingly without physical contact). If Nova's thin(ner) front court has to spend time on the bench (fouls) then UConn will overpower the low post and score easily. And roll. If the Wildcats can disrupt the Huskies' offense, control their defensive boards and hit enough of their shots, inside and outside (oh, and get to the line themselves...) it will be close. Each side knows what they need to prevent and what they need to do. The outcome will hang on how well they are able to do it.

Pomeroy projects the game will be played for 65 possessions (well within each team's comfort zone), with the Huskies taking a 7 point decision.

Monday, January 19, 2009

St. John's Post Game -- Expectations

Ken Pomeroy's offensive/defensive efficiency calculations (skewed for possessions) projected Villanova a 14 point winner. His projection does not provide a narrative (though you could imagine, using Dean Oliver's Four Factors a narrative for the game...) of how the game will acutally play out. Most of the past week saw the Nova Nation speculate whether the team would start slowly, reflecting still on the missed play at the end of the Louisville game from last Saturday. Slow to respond to the team (and task) before them. Or that they would start angry and energetic. In either case, few (I know I should be doing this in a confessional, not an internet blog...forgive me) believed they would take this game by Ken Pomeroy's projection, let alone much better...

Tim over at the Nova News Blog is first to press again, this time using an awards motif to frame his game analysis. Tim has used this approach several times and as usual his awards are clever and entertaining (and his analysis worth the read). . And comes through with a brief recap that mentions, as has virtually every recap/analysis, this win breaks the record for consecutive wins at the Pavilion, in "St. John's 57: :76 Villanova". Mike Sheridan's post game notes (over at the Official website) weaves a narrative that credits the seniors with perseverance to pull the team together and get them ready to play St. John's. And of course there is the posted AP wire story that notes Dante scored a game high 17 points, while Antonio Pena pulled down a team high 9 rebounds. And the traditional box score is also available at Villanova's website.

The breakdown by halves...

OpponentSt. John's 
 Offense Defense

Sometimes You Have to Get Their Attention...
The Cats ran out to a 7-0 lead in the first 2 minutes of the first half. After the Red Storm responded with a trey, the Cats ran off another 12 straight points to grab a 19-3 lead. The Cats outscored St. John's 25-24 through the end of the first half to take a 17 point lead (44-27) into the locker room. The Johnnies came out with a 9-0 run to start the 2nd half, which cut the Wildcat's lead to 8 (44-36). As the Johnnies brought the score to 44-32 the zebras blew Scottie for his 3rd foul (Scottie picked up #2 at 13:10 of the 1st half, and Scottie sat for the rest of the first half)...and the coach for his 3rd technical of the season. Justin Burrell did hit both FTs, but the 'Cats outscored the Storm 32-25 through the end of the game. In the game preview posted Saturday I noted Ken Pomeroy's efficiency and pace calculations projected a 66 possession game with the Wildcats taking a 14 point decision. The game (see table above) was played for 67 possessions, and Nova took a 19 point decision. I can't weave a narrative that attributes the win to senior leadership or a well-timed sideline tirade by a concerned coach. I noted in the preview that shooting efficiency (eFG%) and offensive rebounding rates (OR%) might serve as keys to a win (or loss). The red & green highlighted sections in the table (above) monitor how well Villanova performed in those categories, relative to season-long numbers. The Wildcats posted a terrific shot efficiency for both halves, quite a turnaround from the past 2-3 games -- and in a bit of a bonus they outstripped the St. John's defense numbers. The 'Cats posted strong conversion percentages for both 2s (64.1) and 3s (41.7). Given their success with 2s (overwhelming one of St. John's strong points on defense), there was apparently no need to exploit the Johnnies' weakness at defending the 3FGA. Of Villanova's FGAs, only 23% of their FGAs as 3s. They fell down on offensive rebounding (at 29.6 for the game they were far off of their season-long number, 36.6), but since they converted 58.8% of their FGAs (equating 2s & 3s to produce an impressive 63.7 eFG%) the lack of second chance opportunities was not fatal. The offensive efficiency was not seriously compromised by the Wildcat's turnover rate, a bit off their season numbers. Culprits might include Scottie (for picking up his 2nd and 3rd fouls so quickly), but also to Pena and Anderson, for some bobbling in the paint.

The Wildcats turned in a superlative defensive effort, holding St. John's with a defensive efficiency of 85.1, well below the Storm's offensive efficiency (101.0), but also better than the Wildcat's own defensive efficiency (88.7). The defensive effort was excellent for the 1st half, but sustained through the 2nd half. The Wildcats shutdown 2nd chance opportunities for the Red Storm, holding them to a much lower than D1 average (33%) of 25.0, a real problem for a St. John's team that converted FGAs at a rate of 45.5, below their own season-long percentage. Defensive rebounding was a team effort, with only the walk-ons and Cunningham(!) being shutout. Impressive rebounding efforts from Pena (6 defensive rebounds in 27 minutes of play, yielding a DR% of 31.7) and Scottie Reynolds (3 rebs in 20 minutes of play, yielding a DR% of 21.4)...

1. Dante Cunningham scored the game high 17 points. This is the 9th time Dante has led the team in scoring (2nd consecutive game). His points were both prolific and efficient. He recorded an eFG% of 70.0 & a PPWS of 1.31. He took a bit of a back seat to Pena however, in that he took only 25.3% of the available shots to Pena's 26.1%. Dante was, however, again shut down on the boards, recording a single offensive rebound (and no defensive rebounds). He did manage 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 2 blocks to go with a single steal.
2. Antonio Pena scored in double digits (13 points on 5-9, 3-4 shooting) for the 7th time this season. His eFG%, 55.6, was very good, his PPWS, at 1.19, was a turnaround from his Louisville outing. Pena may well be emerging as the Wildcat's 3rd offensive option. He grabbed 9 rebounds (3-6), proving yet again that he is the most consistent complement to Dante Cunningham. Pena's OR%/DR% for the game was 16.5/31.7, well above his season-long numbers (10.9/19.0).
3. Scottie Reynold's foul troubles largely derailed his game. He was limited to 20 minutes of play, in which he scored a very efficient 9 points (eFG% - 75.0; PPWS - 1.39), reflecting no doubt, that he again took a secondary role (3rd option) in the offense.
4. Corey Fisher put together another good offensive effort. This was especially gratifying given Reynold's foul problems. Fisher shared scoring responsibilities with Reynolds, recording 13 points produced with a 71.4 eFG%. His PPWS was 1.35, suggesting he scored points from the floor and from the line.
5. Senior Dwayne Anderson produced a quiet team 2nd best scoring with his season-high 14 points, scored efficiently (eFG% - 61.1, PPWS - 1.34). Dwayne also grabbed 4 rebounds & had 3 steals. It appears Nova has several scoring options beyond Cunningham and Reynolds.

Ref Notes
James Breeding, Joe Lindsay and Michael Kitts ran the game today. This was Kitts and Breedings first Villanova game this season (though both have ref'ed Nova games in previous seasons). While calling more fouls in the second half than the first has become pretty standard, that the visitor gets to the line more than the home team is a bit unusual. The Johnnies' FTAs, 22, was outside the standard deviation for visitor FTAs at Nova home games (the average to date is 17.2 with a standard deviation of about 4.5). Maybe the coach's technical had something to do with it. It was called at the 18:32 mark of the 2nd half, possibly in response to Scottie's 3rd foul. The Cats were up 12 at the time, but the Johnnies were 60% of the way through a 10-0 run. The "T", though it contributed 2 more to St. John's cause (Justin Burrell hit both to bring the Red Storm to 44-34), it also seemed to get the Wildcat's attention. Rather than cruise home, content to keep the Johnnies at arm's length, the Wildcats seemed to come out of the timeout with a renewed vigor and commitment to press the attack and not let St. John's back in the game. Coming into the game Joe Lindsay had officiated two previous Villanova wins (Monmouth & La Salle).

Roster Notes
1. Senior Shane Clark did not play due to a wrist injury sustained in practice last week. An MRI tomorrow should give an indication on the seriousness of the injury and the amount of time for rehabilitation.
2. The rotation dipped 10 deep into the bench, for the first time since the La Salle game in mid December. Senior Frank Tchuisi drew 4 minutes of PT, while walk-ons Jason Colenda and Russell Wooten got a minute each.